TAMPA Candace Parker and Candice Wiggins made memorable first impressions on each other when they met on a basketball court as kids.
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 straight 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 back 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. I don t really see myself as the other Candice, but I definitely understand the exposure that she gives to women s basketball.
Wiggins has done much for Stanford in four years, but kept her humility.
She almost acts 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.
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 Sunday night 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 73-69 in overtime.