Lady Vols back in SEC title game
Mar 09, 2014 | 344 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DULUTH, Ga. (AP) — Tennessee dominated play around the basket the way its fans dominated the stands.

The result was another trip to the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game.

Isabelle Harrison had 20 points and 13 rebounds and No. 6 Tennessee held off No. 15 Texas A&M 86-77 on Saturday in the SEC tournament semifinals.

Tennessee (26-5) will play No. 12 Kentucky in Sunday's championship game. Kentucky upset No. 5 South Carolina 68-58 in Saturday's first semifinal.

Coach Holly Warlick said her players will be motivated by Kentucky's 75-71 win at Tennessee on Feb. 16.

"That was our goal, to get to the finals," Warlick said. "We're going to get an opportunity to play Kentucky, who beat us on our home court. ... Regardless, South Carolina or Kentucky, we wanted to get in the title game."

It's a familiar setting for the Lady Vols.

Tennessee has 16 SEC tournament titles and has won six of the last nine championships, including three straight from 2010-12. Vanderbilt is second on the list with six tournament titles.

Tennessee orange dominated the crowd of 6,306, as is customary no matter where the tournament is held.

"We feel like we're at home and it helps us to stay in the game," Harrison said.

Courtney Walker led Texas A&M with 26 points. Courtney Williams added 22, but the high-scoring sophomores were not enough to overcome the Lady Vols' inside dominance.

Texas A&M (24-8), the defending champion, led by 10 points in the first half but couldn't match Tennessee's inside game. The Lady Vols took a 48-26 advantage in rebounds and 26-4 in second-chance points.

"Our first-shot defense was as good as anybody's," said Texas A&M coach Gary Blair. "It's the second shot and third shot when we couldn't keep them off the boards.

"I've seen Tennessee rebound like that since 1980. That's just a trademark."

Tennessee's three starting front-line players combined for 32 rebounds — more than the Aggies' team. Cierra Burdick had nine points and 10 rebounds. Bashaara Graves had 14 points and nine rebounds.

The Lady Vols scored 50 points in the paint.

"We got big-time rebounds and these young ladies were all over the boards," Warlick said. "When you get 26 second-chance points, you're doing something really, really good."

Texas A&M center Karla Gilbert picked up two fouls and played only five minutes in the first half. Gilbert's backup, Rachel Mitchell, was called for four fouls in the first half.

"It definitely helped us when their posts got in foul trouble," Harrison said. "We could go inside more. We can kick it back out to our guards. That definitely helped us."

The dominant inside play allowed Tennessee to overcome a poor shooting performance by Meighan Simmons, who made only three of 17 shots from the field. Simmons made eight free throws and had 15 points.

There were 11 ties, the last coming at 75-75 on a short jumper by Walker. The Lady Vols pulled ahead with seven straight points on baskets by Harrison and Graves and three free throws by Simmons.

"We played a damn good ballgame," Blair said. "They played a better 4 minutes than we did at the end."

Tennessee matched its biggest comeback of the year when it trailed by 15 points before beating LSU 77-65 in the quarterfinals on Friday.

The Lady Vols needed another comeback after twice trailing Texas A&M by 10 points, the last time at 21-11. A 15-5 run took care of the deficit, and Tennessee led 39-38. Texas A&M's Jordan Jones, who had 12 points, ended the half with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

There was a delay with 1 minute remaining when Jones was knocked to the floor by an elbow. No foul was called.

Lady Vols 77, LSU 65

On Friday evenings, Isabelle Harrison scored 21 points, Meighan Simmons and Bashaara Graves each added 14 and No. 6 Tennessee used an overpowering late run to beat LSU 77-65 in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Theresa Plaisance finished with 21 points and Danielle Ballard scored 15 for LSU (19-12). The Lady Tigers, seeded 10th, have lost seven of eight.

Tennessee’s 19-0 run late in the second half made it 70-55 lead on Simmons’ two free throws, but the game’s first 35 minutes were tough on the fifth-leading scorer in Tennessee history.

Simmons, who had averaged over 22 points in the previous three games, was just 3 for 16 from the field before her reverse layup from the baseline ended a fast break to force a 55-all tie.