DULUTH, Ga. — Meighan Simmons scored 20 points and Tennessee turned back Florida’s late rally to beat the Gators 82-73 on Friday, extending the Vols’ winning streak in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
No. 9 Tennessee (24-6), the three-time defending champion, has won 10 straight games in the tournament since its loss to Auburn in the 2009 semifinals.
The Vols will face Texas A&M in today’s first semifinal.
Sydney Moss led Florida (18-14) with a career-high 22 points. Moss had a steal and basket with 49 seconds remaining to cut Tennessee’s lead to 75-69 — the Vols’ smallest lead of the half.
Ariel Massengale and Simmons each made two free throws in the final 43 seconds. Taber Spani missed a one-and-one free throw with 30 seconds remaining, but Jaterra Bonds missed a layup for Florida.
Spani made three free throws in the final 16 seconds.
Cierra Burdick had 14 points and eight rebounds and Spani added 13 points for the Vols.
Bonds had 18 points and Carlie Needles scored 12 on four 3-pointers for Florida.
After Moss opened the game with a driving basket for Florida, Tennessee scored the next 12 points and never lost the lead.
Moss scored the Gators’ first eight points. Florida cut into the Vols’ lead when it found more help for Moss — especially from long-range shots. Florida had six 3-pointers in the first half, including three by Needles. A 3-pointer by Lily Svete cut the Vols’ lead to 24-22.
Tennessee stretched its advantage to 47-36 at halftime.
Florida got within seven points midway through the second half. Tennessee led 63-56 with 7:23 remaining when Simmons drew her fourth foul on a charge and left the game. The Vols produced an 8-2 run that included two baskets by Burdick, pushing the lead to 71-58.
Simmons returned for the final 2:39 and had a layup with 1:05 remaining after Florida pulled within eight points
No. 7 Kentucky 76, Vanderbilt 65: A’dia Mathies had 16 points and five steals and No. 7 Kentucky kept its lead in double figures the last 25 minutes of its win.
The last point Vanderbilt trailed by single digits was at 26-17. Kentucky’s big lead was 22 points at 52-30 early in the second half.
Kentucky (26-4) had an impressive start to its postseason after setting a school record with 13 SEC regular-season wins. The Wildcats closed the regular season with a home win over Tennessee to clinch the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Kentucky advanced to its fifth semifinal in the past eight years. Its only championship came in 1982.
DeNesh Stallworth had 14 points in only 21 minutes for Kentucky.
Tiffany Clarke, playing in her hometown, had 24 points and 12 rebounds for Vanderbilt (20-11). Jasmine Lister had 17 points
No. 19 Texas A&M 61, No. 17 South Carolina 52: Kristi Bellock scored 17 points, Karla Gilbert added 11 in a reserve role for the Aggies (22-9).
Ashley Bruner finished with 19 points and Ieasia Walker added 15 for South Carolina (24-7).
Texas A&M survived a scare early in the second half when All-SEC center Kelsey Bone fell to the floor with a leg injury, but she later returned wearing a right knee brace after missing about 6 minutes.
During Bone’s absence, South Carolina took its first lead 1 minute later when Bruner’s layup made it 30-29.
But with Gilbert helping the front-line offense while Bone was off the floor, Texas A&M followed with an 11-1 run to go up 42-33 on Adrienne Pratcher’s two free throws.
Bone made it 48-40 with a putback at the 8:24 mark and her free throw less than 2 minutes later gave the Aggies an 11-point lead.
The Gamecocks, who failed to make the SEC semifinals for a second straight year, were coming off a dominant win over Alabama, but they missed too many shots inside to gain momentum in the first half. It was a familiar pattern for a team that ranked next-to-last in SEC scoring this season despite having the nation’s sixth-best scoring defense.
South Carolina’s biggest deficit was 12 on Bellock’s free throw with 6:26 left. The Gamecocks were essentially finished after Courtney Walker’s steal led to a layup by Bellock that pushed the lead to nine with 1:34 remaining.
Pratcher scored eight points, but she was just 3 for 14 from the field. Bone and Walker each added seven points.
No. 12 Georgia 71, No. 22 LSU 53: Jasmine Hassell scored 19 points, Tiaria Griffin added 15 and No. 12 Georgia snapped No. 22 LSU’s seven-game winning streak.
Sparkman High graduate Adrienne Webb finished with 16 points, Theresa Plaisance added 13 and Danielle Ballard had 10 for LSU (20-11).
Each of the Lady Bulldogs’ starters scored in double figures with Anne Marie Armstrong adding 12 points, Shacobia Barbee 11 and James 10.
At Duluth, Ga.
Tennessee 82, Florida 73
Texas A&M 61, South Carolina 52
Kentucky 76, Vanderbilt 65
Georgia 71, LSU 53
Tennessee vs. Texas A&M, 3 p.m.
Kentucky vs. Georgia, 5 p.m.
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