Tennessee is on the verge of its first SEC men's tournament championship since 1979 after defeating Kentucky 69-62 Saturday in the semifinals in Tampa, Florida.
The second-seeded Volunteers used a hounding defense and a balanced offense to knock off the third-seeded Wildcats and earn a spot in the 2022 championship game.
Joining Tennessee in the final is eighth-seeded Texas A&M, who knocked off fourth-seeded Arkansas 82-64 in the day's first semifinal.
The Aggies have won eight of their last nine games and have taken down two ranked opponents in a row. The Volunteers could be one of the most dangerous teams in the country, having taken down Arkansas, Auburn and Kentucky (twice) in recent weeks.
The two teams met earlier this season on Feb. 1, with Tennessee winning 90-80.
2022 SEC Tournament Semifinal Results
Texas A&M def. Arkansas: 82-64
Tennessee def. Kentucky: 69-62
2022 SEC Tournament Final Schedule
Tennessee vs. Texas A&M
Date: Sunday, March 13
Start Time: 1 p.m. ET
All-Around Aggies Score Another Upset
Arkansas came into this game as one of the hottest teams in the second half of the season, having only lost twice since mid-January. Unfortunately, the Razorbacks ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Texas A&M, who was coming off an upset win over top-seeded Auburn on Friday.
The Aggies defense was suffocating to start the game, stalling the Razorbacks offense and forcing it to settle for tough looks. Arkansas didn't reach double digits until the 8:15 mark, and they didn't sink a three-pointer until 6:24 was left in the first half.
At the same time, Texas A&M was busy asserting itself on offense. Wade Taylor IV was a bright spot in the early going, getting a couple of difficult shots to fall. Arkansas was playing on its heels, chasing the ball as the Aggies whipped the ball around the court. Hassan Diarra, who hit the game-winning three over Florida in the second round, was also crucial in the first half, scoring 10 of his 12 points.
The Aggies came out of the break with a 36-24 advantage. Even though it was their third game in as many days, they seemed remarkably fresh and extended their lead to 40-29 after a couple of minutes.
A cold spell allowed Arkansas to start chipping away at the deficit. Davonte Davis provided some scoring help off the bench, and Stanley Umude (20 points) started to dial it in from downtown. An 8-0 run from Arkansas cut Texas A&M's lead to 47-44 with just over 12 minutes remaining.
Head coach Buzz Williams was able to refocus his players, and they rewarded him with excellent play down the stretch. Backup guard Hayden Hefner scored a few key buckets, and Quenton Jackson put the finishing touches on a fine game, scoring eight of his 20 points in the final 10 minutes. He also had six assists and four steals.
Jackson's emphatic dunk with 4:30 left to go made the score 76-57, effectively crushing any hopes of an Arkansas comeback.
The Aggies were on the bubble coming into the SEC tournament, but their performance in Tampa means they will likely find themselves in the field of 68 on Selection Sunday. They can remove any doubt with a win in the championship game.
Volunteers Defense Stifles Wildcats' Attack
Not much went right for head coach John Calipari's squad in this one. Kentucky couldn't make anything from range, and Tennessee did an excellent job of denying Oscar Tshiebwe the ball. Tshiebwe (17.1 PPG) had little room to operate in the paint. He also picked up two fouls in the first eight-and-a-half minutes of action.
Even with the offensive struggles, Kentucky was down just 23-18 with about six minutes to go in the first half. The Wildcats defense, one of the best in the country, was keeping the team in the game.
The Volunteers offense picked up the pace shortly after, however, and a 10-4 run stretched their lead to 33-22 at halftime. The Wildcats were 0-8 from three-point range, while the Volunteers were 5-of-11 from downtown.
Kentucky's outside-shooting woes continued for much of the second half, though Tshiebwe was able to find the scoring touch inside, keeping his team from losing control of the contest entirely. Keion Brooks Jr. also played well, scoring 11 of his 19 points in the second half.
Even with Kentucky's stars finding their footing, Tennessee was able to stretch its advantage to 51-37 with about nine minutes to go. Kennedy Chandler (19 points) was doing a healthy amount of the damage, using his athleticism to get to the rim.
A driving layup from Kentucky's Sahvir Wheeler cut the deficit to 55-49 with 5:36 remaining, and it looked like the Wildcats might be ready to make a winning push. Disaster struck just a couple of minutes later, as Tshiebwe was called for his fifth foul of the game. He finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks.
Even with Tshiebwe out, the Wildcats refused to go quietly. They were within four points with less than a minute to go, but the long-range shooting failed them yet again, and the Volunteers escaped with a seven-point win.