By Parrish Alford
OXFORD - For 29 minutes, basketball wasn't much fun for Tennessee.
But the 11 remaining minutes were more than ample time for the fifth-ranked Lady Vols to put on a smile again.
The Ole Miss Lady Rebels, with upset in their eyes, held the advantage for a good portion of Thursday's SEC game, but freshman phenom Candace Parker capped a 17-10 run for the lead with a three-point play with 10 minutes, 42 seconds remaining. Tennessee went on to win 78-63 before a Tad Smith Coliseum crowd of 4,123.
"When we practice we're a great team. We're like robots out there getting it done," Lady Vols guard Shanna Zolman said. "But when we get in games we struggle. We're sick and tired of playing like that. We're playing but we're not having fun."
The second half was much more entertaining for Tennessee and its fans, who filled many of the lower-section, bench-side seats.
Ole Miss (12-9, 2-6 SEC) got solid post play in the first half, holding the Lady Vols (20-2, 6-1) to 34.5 percent shooting.
Danetra Forrest scored nine of her 13 points then, and Parker - who averages a team-high 15.5 points - was held to two free throws and 0-for-4 floor shooting.
The Lady Rebels got a couple of 3-point baskets from Carla Bartee in the first half. Tennessee held a height advantage of 3-4 inches in the post but couldn't get its big girls going.
It all added up to a 28-26 halftime lead for Ole Miss, one it extended to 36-30 when Forrest scored with an assist from Armintie Price with 17:29 remaining.
Things soon changed.
"We were soft on the inside in the second half, and they had their way in the paint," Ole Miss coach Carol Ross said. "When they made their run, they toughened up on defense and kept us from making one back."
Ole Miss was successful mixing Forrest, Jada Mincy and freshman Shawn Goff in the paint in the first half.
Tennessee got more from its frontcourt after it set the tone with its perimeter play.
Before Parker's three-point play, forward Sidney Spencer knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 46-44.
Parker's bucket and free throw gave Tennessee a 47-46 lead, its first since a 19-18 edge in the first half.
The run was far from over. Spencer hit another 3-pointer - she was 4-for-4 behind the arc for the night - and Zolman scored from 15 feet out.
When Zolman tripled from the left wing with 7:42 left, Tennessee was up 59-51 and had scored on seven straight possessions.
Parker was just 2-for-7 from the floor, and her seven points were a season-low. Bartee's 14 points led the Lady Rebels.
The Lady Vols bothered Ole Miss with a zone defense in the second half. When they were in man, Parker was often the one chasing Price around the gym. Tennessee held Ole Miss' best player to six rebounds - about half her average - and 10 points.
She did have four assists and five steals.
"In the first half we did a good job of clogging it up in there and guarding their shooters," Ross said. "Back in November and December we did that for 40 minutes a few times."