OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Because of her dunking prowess, many in the sports world knew about Candace Parker before she ever scored a point for Tennessee.
Not the case with Texas A&M just as close to the Final Four as the vaunted Lady Vols.
Sharing a stage with women's basketball's glamour team, Texas A&M moved into its first regional final by beating Duke 77-63 on Sunday night. Hours later, the Lady Vols advanced to the round of eight by overpowering Notre Dame in the second half of a 74-64 victory.
But while Tennessee got a 34-point performance from Parker, Texas A&M relied on an unexpected 17-point second-half outburst from Patrice Reado to move within one win of the Final Four.
"Nobody has ever heard of Patrice Reado except the people in Houston, and look what she did," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. "She's the most unheralded out of my five starters."
And the rest aren't all that heralded, even according to their head coach. As Blair described it, the only other interested party when leading scorer Takia Starks was picking a college was Auburn. And for team leader A'Quonesia Franklin, "it was us and nobody," Blair said.
On Tuesday night, that core group that believed in Blair will go up against a team that features Parker and six other former McDonald's All-Americans one step from the Final Four.
"We come out and play how we play our game. It's not really pressure on us," Starks said. "There's a lot of doubters out there because we don't have big names, but we're right here proving it right now."
The Aggies got there without one of their top players. Danielle Gant, an all-Big 12 selection and the team's second-leading scorer, missed the second half against Duke while getting treated for dehydration.
Reado, A&M's fourth-leading scorer, came up with 17 points and eight rebounds — all in the second half — and Franklin scored all 13 of her points after halftime as the Aggies (29-7) stretched their four-point lead to 16 at one point in the second half. Starks scored 15 and Morenike Atunrase, who filled in for Gant, had 13.
"When a teammate goes down, in the short term, it can be beneficial. In the moment, players rise to the challenge," said Joanne P. McCallie, who concluded her first year as the coach at Duke (25-10).
Parker's challenge was keeping the Lady Vols (33-2) in the game until her teammates broke out of an early funk. She had 19 points by halftime, but Tennessee still trailed 33-31 — only its third halftime deficit this season.
The 6-foot-3 All-American guided Tennessee into the lead by scoring the first five points of a 14-0 run early in the second half, and the Lady Vols pulled away to get into the round of eight for the 23rd time.
"That's exactly where you want to be because the ultimate goal is the Final Four and a national championship," said Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, who's seeking her 17th Final Four appearance and eighth NCAA title. "But you can't do it unless you win that game."
Parker started Tennessee's big run by putting back Nicky Anosike's miss, and she then converted a three-point play off a transition jumper to put the Lady Vols up 38-37 with 17:39 left. At that point, she had scored 24 of her team's 38 points.
"Honestly, in postseason, you've got to come through. That's what great players do," Parker said.
Three teammates contributed baskets to extend the Lady Vols' lead, and Shannon Bobbitt's second 3-pointer of the half pushed the advantage to 60-44.
Notre Dame, which is 0-20 all-time against Tennessee, closed the gap with a late rally but could only get within eight. Irish coach Muffet McGraw's personal record against the Lady Vols fell to 0-16.
Freshman Becca Bruszewski led the fifth-seeded Irish (25-9) with 16 points — matching her career high set in the first round against SMU — and Charel Allen also had 16. Lindsay Schrader, Parker's teammate on a grade school AAU team, added 13 points and Ashley Barlow scored 11.
Bobbitt finished with 11 and Anosike had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Vols, but it was Parker who led the way. She scored her team's first eight points and had 19 by halftime.
"She has the size, she has the skills, she has the mind-set to take over a game," Summitt said. "As a coach, you don't always have that on your basketball team and when you do have it, you just hope that they have Candace's mentality.
"She wants it, and she's willing to step up and make the plays for us."
Blair, meanwhile, expects to have Gant back in time to play against Tennessee. But it could be anyone who leads the way as the Aggies look to extend the most successful season in school history with another landmark victory.
"This has been our biggest win right now," Blair said. "But we didn't come here to just win one ballgame."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.