When you have Candace Parker on your team, you've got a pretty good chance to win a national championship.
Not just because she's one of the nation's best -- if not the best -- women's college basketball player, but also because of how she elevates the rest of her team.
Though Parker struggled with the defensive pressure of Rutgers, the sophomore forward kept demanding the ball. When her shot didn't fall, she'd rebound. Other times, she'd recognize the double team and spot up one of her teammates for an open look. And consistently she picked up her defense.
It all combined to complete the Parker legacy, as the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament helped Tennessee end its nine-year title drought with a 59-46 win over Rutgers Tuesday night in the national championship game at Quicken Loans Arena.
While Parker led the Lady Vols with 17 points and seven rebounds, Nicky Anosike pulled down 16 rebounds (10 on the offensive end) and Shannon Bobbitt hit four three-pointers -- three in the second half -- to help separate Tennessee from the Scarlet Knights.
It's just proof of what Parker has been preaching all year -- Tennessee is not just the Candace Parker show.
"All year it's been pick your poison," Parker said. "I think if you take one option away we have four others and I was just proud at how everybody came together and fought and made corrections and adjustments."
In another defensive battle, the Lady Vols dominated the glass, pulling down 42 rebounds, including 24 on the offensive end which they promptly turned into 22 second-chance points.
"Coach [Pat Summitt] emphasized that rebounding wins championships and we have to allow ourselves to get second and third chances," said Alexis Hornbuckle, who pulled in seven rebounds. "Rebounding is about the heart and hustle and who wants the ball the most. That's how we approach it."
That's a sentiment echoed by Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer who watched her team try to outjump a taller Tennessee team and end up with just 34 rebounds.
"They killed us on the boards," Stringer said. "That's a matter of blocking out. It's an effort thing that anybody can do and when you have a team as big as that, you have to do that. We tried to jump with them. Maybe we realized it was a national championship. We looked like a deer stuck in headlights."
Although Tennessee owned the glass from the opening tip its offense was a bit stagnant and a bit tight until Parker started demanding the ball late in the first half.
That's when the Lady Vols started to run their offense through the low post -- and Parker in particular. What shots didn't come in the paint were created by moving the ball, and the suffocating Rutgers defense, around.
The result over the final seven minutes was a 13-4 Tennessee run and a 29-18 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Lady Vols opened a 15-point lead (43-28) with 11:07 to play. It was the play of point guard Bobbitt -- who turned up defensive pressure on the Rutgers' guards and hit back-to-back three-pointers -- that sparked the 8-2 run which gave Tennessee control of the game.
Rutgers kept itself in the game with a 7-0 run and pulled back to within single digits, 50-42, when Matee Ajavon hit a three-pointer with 2:42 left to play. But Parker hit six straight free throws to seal the win.
"I thought our defensive play and our board play were the difference," Summitt said. "We got a little bit more aggressive offensively in the second half and had some good ball movement. I'm just so happy for this team. They just worked so hard. Championships are won in the offseason and they did the work."
Tennessee had three players besides Parker in double figures. Bobbitt finished with 13 while Sidney Spencer scored 11 and Alberta Auguste 10.
For Rutgers, Kia Vaughn led all scorers with 20 points and had 10 rebounds.