No. 16 Kentucky 69, Vanderbilt 56
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
Kentucky's plan against fourth-ranked Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship is simple. That doesn't mean pulling out a win is going to be easy.
The No. 16 Wildcats secured a rematch of last year's SEC championship game after withstanding a late rally and beating Vanderbilt 69-56 in the semifinals on Saturday night.
They will make their third appearance in the SEC championship, a game they've only won once - in 1982 against Tennessee.
And about that plan on how to beat the reiging SEC regular-season and tournament champion Lady Volunteers?
''We will have to work extremely hard to try to pressure Tennessee and try to make them uncomfortable in their offense,'' Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. ''We need to really bow up and win the battle of the boards. When you do that, you have an opportunity to win those three areas: the hustle, the rebounding and the turnover battle.''
Kentucky (24-7) did that against the Commodores, who trailed by 27 points with 10:34 to go before finding the offense that had been eluding them all game.
Elan Brown hit a 3-pointer to open a 24-7 run that cut the margin to 53-38 with 6:06 to go. Brown hit another 3 with 1:40 left to cut it to 60-52, but Victoria Dunlap tipped in a missed layup by Bernisha Pinkett with 1:10 left to put Kentucky back up by 10, and the Commodores (20-11) would get no closer.
''It obviously wasn't enough to get us out of the hole that we dug for ourselves in the first half,'' Vanderbilt forward Hannah Tuomi said.
That hole was dug quickly. Tuomi had hit a jumper 23 seconds into the game, but it was the last offense Vanderbilt would see for over 10 minutes.
Kentucky scored the next 22 points, getting six points from Dunlap and five from Crystal Riley during the stretch. The Commodores turned the ball over 16 times before halftime, leading to 14 points for the Wildcats.
''I didn't see this one coming, the start,'' Vandy coach Melanie Balcomb said. ''(The Wildcats) came out so energized, physical and really just put us on our heels right away, which we should have been ready for after playing them twice.''
Kentucky won both of those meetings, taking a 78-68 victory in Lexington on Jan. 23 and an 80-71 win in Nashville on Feb. 20.
Brown put back a missed jumper by Stephanie Holzer with 9:22 left in the first half to break the drought for Vandy, which hit two more field goals before Angelo Puleo closed out the half with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to pull to 33-11.
''We knew it was going to be a rough game on the boards and things like that,'' Kentucky forward Brittany Henderson said. ''We took a couple punches and we gave some back, and we came out with a win.''
Dunlap led the Wildcats with 22 points, A'dia Mathies scored 11 before reaggravating a back injury and leaving the game with 11:55 left, and Henderson grabbed 18 rebounds.
The Dores shot 20 percent in the first half, 55.6 percent in the second and finished with 25 turnovers.
Tiffany Clarke led Vanderbilt with 18 points and 17 rebounds. Tuomi finished with 12 points, and Jasmine Lister scored 11.