Tennessee women's basketball holds off Texas A&M in SEC semis

Saturday, March 8, 2014 | 6:27 p.m. CST
Tennessee center Isabelle Harrison reacts in front of Texas A&M forward Achiri Ade after being fouled in the first half of a Southeastern Conference women's basketball tournament game Saturday in Duluth, Ga.

DULUTH, Ga. — Tennessee dominated play around the basket the way its fans dominated the stands.

The result is 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 Volunteers.

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 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 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," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. "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 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 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 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 one minute remaining when Jones was knocked to the floor by an elbow. No foul was called.

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