DULUTH, Ga. – Texas A&M played even with Tennessee for about 36 minutes before a lack of depth finally caught up with the Aggies.
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 Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals.
Courtney Walker scored a game-high 26 points and Courtney Williams had 22 for the Aggies. Walker played 40 minutes and Williams and Jordan Jones, who had 12 points, each played 39 minutes.
Fatigue was a factor when Tennessee pulled away in the final 4 minutes following a 75-75 tie.
"My kids were dead tired," said Texas A&M coach Gary Blair. "I didn't have the depth to be able to rest them. I had to roll the dice."
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.
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 Lady 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," 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.
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.
Gilbert finished with eight points and four rebounds in 18 minutes. She was one of three Aggies to finish with four fouls.
"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."
There were 11 ties, the last coming at 75. The Lady Vols pulled ahead with seven straight points on baskets by Harrison and Graves and three free throws by Meighan Simmons.
"We played a damn good ballgame," Blair said. "They played a better 4 minutes than we did at the end."
The tournament final is a familiar setting for the Lady Vols.
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.
The Lady Vols scored 50 points in the paint.
The dominant inside play allowed Tennessee to overcome a poor shooting performance by Simmons, who made only three of 17 shots from the field. Simmons made eight free throws and had 15 points.
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 Lady 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.
Jones ended the half with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
There was a delay with 1 minute remaining when Jones was knocked to the floor by an elbow. No foul was called. Blair said Jones was dehydrated but will be ready for the NCAA tournament.