TAMPA, Fla. --- Candace Parker and Candice Wiggins made memorable first impressions on one another when they met on a basketball court as kids. Both hope the final snapshot from their stellar college careers will include a national championship.
"We were in a 13-year-and-under AAU tournament in Florida, actually. She was like 6-foot-2 at 12," Wiggins said. "I remember being just like, 'Wow,' because she was different then. There's nobody in the game like her. I think she's carrying all the pressure and all of that really well, and I really respect her for that."
The feeling is mutual. Parker led Tennessee to its seventh national title a year ago and will try to help the Lady Vols become the first repeat champs since Connecticut won three in a row from 2002-04 when they meet Stanford tonight for the championship.
"I remember watching her play when we were in eighth grade, and we were watching the championship national game," Parker said. "She was a ball of energy, always moving. I think she's a great leader for her team, and she really inspires by her play."
While Parker clearly has raised the profile of her sport with her talent and persona, Wiggins has quietly led Stanford to its first Final Four in 11 years.
"I understand what Candace Parker is to women's basketball. She's a very prominent figure, a prominent face, and I don't expect any of that to change," Wiggins said.
Wiggins has done much for Stanford in four years, but she has kept her humility.
"She almost acts so surprised about everything, to be the USA Basketball Player of the Year, and if anyone saw her when she got the Wade, she was shocked," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "She really is just very real and down-to-earth, and it's really fun to see someone with that kind of demeanor to have all these great things happen to them."
The spotlight, of course, will be on the two stars, but the title might well be settled by others.
"We both realize we've got great support around us, and I think that's what it really comes down to," Wiggins said. "And so it's not me versus her, it's Stanford vs. Tennessee."
The Lady Vols (35-2), who beat LSU on Alexis Hornbuckle's putback with seven-tenths of a second remaining, and the Cardinal (35-3), who shocked UConn, 82-73, in the other semifinal, are not strangers. The teams met Dec. 22 at Stanford, with the Cardinal winning by four in overtime.
"I remember the Stanford game like it was yesterday," Parker said. "We talk about how it ruined our Christmas."
Wiggins scored 22, and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude scored nine of Stanford's 10 points in OT to end the Cardinal's 11-game skid in the series. Parker had 25 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, four blocks and two steals.
"For us, the confidence of beating Tennessee is huge," VanDerveer said. "I'm sure (Lady Vols coach) Pat (Summitt) might pull out that tape."
The Cardinal, on a 23-game win streak, are riding high after avenging a 12-point loss to UConn in November.
"They're a better team now," Summitt said. "I'm glad that we've played them. We know their tendencies. ... We've got our work cut out for us."
WHO: Stanford (35-3) vs. Tennessee (35-2)
WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum; Tampa, Fla.
WHEN: 8:30 tonight on ESPN
STANFORD: 1990, 1992
TENNESSEE: 1987, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2007
BY THE NUMBERS
|Opp. Avg. Pts.||58.9||56.2|
|Opp. FG Pct.||.385||.354|
|3-Pt. FG Pct.||.367||.330|
|Opp. 3-Pt. FG Pct.||.316||.291|
HOW THE TEAMS REACHED THE FINALS
- Oral Roberts, 94-55
- Purdue, 78-52
- Notre Dame, 74-64
- Texas A&M, 53-45
- LSU, 47-46
- Cleveland State, 85-47
- UTEP, 88-54
- Pittsburgh, 72-53
- Maryland, 98-87
- Connecticut, 82-73
GERRY BROOME/ASSOCIATED PRESS