NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Cierra Burdick had 20 points and 11 rebounds as No. 5 Tennessee pulled away to reach the women’s Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game with a 75-64 win over Kentucky on Saturday night.
It’s the 23rd time in 35 seasons the defending tournament champion Lady Vols (27-4) have reached the final, where they’ll face No. 3 South Carolina on Sunday. They have won the tournament 17 times.
Burdick was 8 of 14 from the field as Tennessee won for the fifth time in six games since All-SEC center Isabelle Harrison was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Jordan Reynolds added 13 points and hit three 3-pointers for the Lady Vols, who were 9 of 19 overall from behind the arc.
Bria Goss led the No. 12 Wildcats (23-9), who lost in the championship game last year, with 16 points.
Kentucky is now 1-7 against Tennessee in the SEC tournament, with its lone win giving the school its only tournament championship in 1982.
The Wildcats led by as many as six points in the first half before the Lady Vols pulled ahead for good and took a 31-24 halftime lead. Linnae Harper added 15 points and Jennifer O’Neill had 11 for Kentucky, which was 26 of 76 (34.2 percent) from the field.
Goss cut Tennessee’s lead to 43-38 early in the second half with a drive and three-point play, but the Lady Vols responded with a 16-8 run to go up 59-46 and put the game out of reach. Reynolds capped the run with a deep 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, much to the delight of the overwhelmingly pro-Tennessee crowd in Verizon Arena.
Ariel Massengale and Andraya Carter were a combined 10 of 10 on free throws to help secure the win for the Lady Vols, who were 18 of 20 overall from the foul line.
After Kentucky tied the game at 20 late in the first half on a jumper by O’Neil, the Lady Vols answered with an 8-0 run — capped by Burdick’s second 3-pointer of the half.
Tennessee then earned its largest lead of the half at 31-23 after a 3-pointer by Carter before settling for a 31-24 halftime lead.
Kentucky: After scoring 31 points in a quarterfinal win over Mississippi State, Makayla Epps finished with 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting on Saturday. The sophomore also had five turnovers to go along with five assists.
Tennessee: The Lady Vols are 17-5 in SEC tournament championship games. They would own half of the league’s tournament titles with a win over No. 3 South Carolina on Sunday. The Gamecocks defeated Tennessee 71-66 on Feb. 23.
Kentucky now waits to hear its NCAA Tournament destination.
Tennessee faces No. 3 South Carolina for the tournament title on Sunday.
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