It's 'Ice' vs. 'Ace' for title

TAMPA, Fla. -- As 13-year-olds, they watched in awe, amazed by the other's basketball skills.

In high school, they became friends, gave each other nicknames and chatted over the Internet.

Tonight, as 21-year-old women, Candace Parker and Candice Wiggins will end their distinguished collegiate careers on the same floor, when Parker's Tennessee team plays Wiggins' Stanford squad for the national championship.

"I'm just excited to be able to play in a national championship game as my last game, and I'm sure she is, too," Wiggins said. "The thing is, we both realize we've got great support around us, and I think that's really what it comes down to. And so, it's not me versus her; it's Stanford versus Tennessee."

But make no mistake: The players who nicknamed themselves "Ice" and "Ace" years ago -- a play on different spellings of their shared first name -- are main attractions, and for good reason.

Both are consensus All-Americans, have played for various USA National teams -- Parker will play on the Olympic team this summer in Beijing -- and each won an award for national player of the year when Wiggins won the Wade Trophy on Saturday and Parker the Naismith Award on Monday.

But for all the similarities and shared accolades, their paths to tonight's title game have been quite different.

Wiggins is the daughter of former Major League Baseball player Alan Wiggins, who died from complications of AIDS when Candice was 3. She's in the midst of one of the best individual performances in the NCAA Tournament.

Wiggins, a 5-foot-11-inch guard, scored a career-high 44 points against UTEP in the second round and 41 in the regional final against No. 1 Maryland. She had 25 points and a season-high 13 rebounds in an upset of No. 1 Connecticut on Sunday in the national semifinals.

In the tournament, she's averaging 27.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and has a team-high 16 3-pointers, nine steals and 23 assists.

"What Candice did in the regionals, and what she did here, it's just so impressive," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said.

Parker, a 6-4 forward/center, is among her sport's most recognizable names and will finish her Tennessee career as one of its most decorated players. She led the Lady Vols to the 2007 national title and this season leads her team in scoring (21.4), rebounds (8.5) and blocks (89). She's second in steals with 84.

Still, Parker's past two games have been among the most challenging of her career.

She dislocated her left shoulder twice in the regional finals against Texas A&M last week and spent five days between that game and Sunday's semifinal in Tampa undergoing strenuous rehabilitation.

Parker woke up Monday feeling sore but was confident she would be better tonight.

"One more game," Parker said. "Just get through it and worry about it later."

For Parker and Wiggins, they know tonight is just another moment -- albeit a giant one -- in a relationship that will continue for years to come.

"We joke about how someday we'll be moms, sitting in the stands watching our kids (play)," Parker said.