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March 2, 2007

DULUTH, Ga. (AP) -Tennessee showed it doesn’t have to rely on star Candace Parker in the SEC tournament opener.

With impressive balance, the No. 2 Lady Vols began their pursuit of a sixth sweep of the Southeastern Conference’s regular-season and tournament titles by beating South Carolina 81-63 on Friday.

Sidney Spencer scored 22 points and Alexis Hornbuckle added 17 for Tennessee, which won its 34th consecutive matchup against the Gamecocks since 1980. Parker added 10 points and 11 rebounds while sitting out much of the second half. Alex Fuller and Nicky Anosike each had eight points.

Tennessee advances to Saturday’s semifinal round where it will play the winner of Friday night’s Mississippi-LSU game.

Tennessee (28-2) finished 14-0 in the league and won its 14th regular-season title. It has taken both the regular-season and tournament championships five times, most recently in 2000.

The only other time the Lady Vols won both titles without a loss in the regular season was 1998, when they won the last of coach Pat Summitt’s six national championships.

Lakesha Tolliver led South Carolina (17-14) with 13 points. Melanie Johnson added 11, all in the first half.

The Gamecocks trailed 40-28 at halftime and the deficit grew to 23 points in the first five minutes of the second half.

Parker was mostly quiet before she was involved in a brief skirmish with Tolliver about 6 minutes into the second half. The two were briefly entangled following a foul by Parker and were quickly separated by the officials.

On the next trip down the floor, Parker blocked a shot by Tolliver and then scored over Tolliver, drawing a foul. After making the basket, Parker glared at Tolliver and then sank the free throw.

Parker soon was back on the bench.

Tennessee needed only one pass and 4 seconds to take a 3-0 lead on Spencer’s basket and free throw. Five Lady Vols’ players scored in the first five minutes.

South Carolina cut down on their season-high 34 turnovers in the regular-season loss to the Vols. The Gamecocks committed only 11 turnovers in the first half, but a buzzer-beating shot by Spencer gave the Lady Vols a 40-28 halftime lead.

Parker, who attempted only three shots, had five points at the break.