PITTSBURGH - Longtime women's basketball power Tennessee may never have had a 39-point victory that required so much work, effort and emotion.
Tennessee limited Drake to two points in the opening 10 minutes of each half and Alexis Hornbuckle led a late surge in the first half that broke open a tight game, carrying the Lady Vols to a 76-37 victory Sunday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The Lady Vols (29-3), the top seed in the Dayton Regional, weren't supposed to have any trouble with the 16th-seeded Bulldogs (14-19) but got exactly that for most of the first half - leading only 13-9 nearly 12 minutes into the game and 21-14 with 2:21 remaining before halftime.
Tennessee then went on a remarkable 34-0 run that lasted nearly 13 minutes and didn't end until midway through the second half - time enough for the Lady Vols to push their lead to 55-14 before Drake's Monique Jones made two free throws with 10:36 remaining.
"The sleeping giant awoke at halftime," Drake coach Amy Stephens said.
Hornbuckle scored 14 points, Candace Parker added 13 points and six rebounds, Shannon Bobbitt scored 11 and Dominique Redding finished with 10 points.
No Drake player reached double figures as the Bulldogs shot 21.4 percent (12-of-56), with their starters a combined 9-of-49.
Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt probably couldn't choose between being pleased with her team's shutdown defense or being exasperated with the long delay it took to generate any offense. Tennessee, ranked third in the final Associated Press regular-season poll, hadn't played since a 63-54 loss to LSU in the Southeastern Conference tournament on March 3.
"Having been off for a while caused us to come out anxious," Parker said. "We settled down in the second half and ran our offensive sets and ran them right."
Tennessee knows that once the competition starts getting better, perhaps as early as Tuesday, it can't afford to wait nearly as long.
"At the half, someone said, â€˜What's the deal? What's wrong?'" Summitt said. "It's postseason play. They came out and matched our intensity. ... At least we executed well in the second half."
Tennessee didn't reach double figures until well past the midway point of the first half and was visibly struggling against the smaller and less athletic Bulldogs until Hornbuckle and Parker took over late in the first half.
Parker scored on a spin-move layup with her left hand to make it 23-14, and Hornbuckle finished off the half with a fast-break layup, a shot off the glass and a 3-pointer as the Lady Vols took a 30-14 halftime lead.
"Our goal was to hang around and we were able to do that for a long time," Drake's Lindsay Whorton said. "Then they made us play at a pace we're not used to playing."
With Drake's shooting percentage hovering around 14 percent until late in the game, the Lady Vols scored the first 25 points of the second half against a tiring opponent that was 10-18 until winning four games in four days on its home court to take the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
"We were playing the best of the best in Tennessee and we were excited to be here at first," the Bulldogs' Lauren Dybing said. "We were nervous."
Parker scored the first two baskets of the half before Bobbitt, 0-of-4 in the first half, got going with a pair of 3-pointers, a driving layup and a basket following a steal.
"I didn't settle down in the first half," Bobbitt said. "I was too anxious and didn't run the team well. My job is to get the game up-tempo in a hurry."
Tennessee, a six-time national champion looking for its first title since 1998, is the top seed in its region for the 18th time. The Lady Vols will face eighth- seeded Pittsburgh - a 71-61 winner over James Madison - on Tuesday night on the Panthers' home court.
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