March 12, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl knows if his 15th-ranked Volunteers want to win a conference championship, they're going to have to beat the best.
They'll have that chance when they face No. 2 Kentucky for a third time this season.
Wayne Chism had 16 points and 15 rebounds, and the Vols beat Mississippi 76-65 in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals on Friday to advance to the semifinals Saturday with their most bitter rival.
"Kentucky is the best," Pearl said. "They are the best team here. They're one of the best teams in the country and obviously an opportunity to play them and win a championship is something that you relish that opportunity, and we'll prepare and we'll get after them."
Tennessee and Kentucky split their regular-season meetings, with the Wildcats taking a 73-62 win at Lexington on Feb. 13, and the Vols winning 74-65 in Knoxville on Feb. 27.
With the teams tied at 44, Tennessee went on a 9-0 run punctuated by a jump shot by Tatum to take a 53-44 lead with 13:21 left.
Mississippi (21-10) answered with back-to-back 3s by Chris Warren from opposite sides of the baseline and a free throw by Trevor Gaskins -- to trim the Vols' lead to 2.
Tennessee used free throws and paint points to pull away as the Rebels went 5 minutes without hitting a field goal. Mississippi made only 48 percent of its foul shots compared to Tennessee's 70.3 percent free throw shooting.
"We had a couple of plays on the table -- open shots, layups, free throws -- and we just didn't come through," Mississippi's Zach Graham said.
Warren led Mississippi with 16 points, Graham added 15 and Terrico White had 13.
Coming off a four-game winning streak and a first-round tournament bye, Mississippi was playing to improve its credentials in hopes of earning an NCAA tournament bid. The Rebels had a quality win over Kansas State early in the season, but wanted another resume-boosting win.
The Vols, who have stayed in the Top 25 all season and logged wins over then-No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Kentucky, are playing to improve their seeding in the NCAA tournament.
Both teams looked the part of an NCAA contender early. Tennessee hit 7 of 15 3-point shots before halftime -- the Vols only had five 2-point baskets -- and Mississippi hit its first six 3s.
A 3-pointer by Graham gave the Rebels an 18-12 lead with 13:05 left in the first half.
Tatum, who hit all four of his shots from 3 in the first half, hit back-to-back 3s from opposite wings followed by a free throw to grab a 24-22 lead for the Vols with 9:29 before halftime. Tatum was suspended for the teams' regular-season meeting after an arrest on drug and alcohol charges, which have since been dropped.
"Cameron Tatum was a huge difference today making four big 3s," Rebels coach Andy Kennedy said. "Despite the way we played out of the gate we went in with a one-point lead simply because he knocked down a lot of shots. "He was someone they did not have the first time we played them. To be honest with you, I thought he was the difference maker."
The teams traded the lead twice more before an 8-0 run by Tennessee that ended with a fastbreak layup by Prince that gave Tennessee a 34-31 lead with 2:26 left in the first half. White hit a layup and tipped in a shot, and the Rebels entered halftime with a 35-34 lead.
Warren was hot from the perimeter, hitting 5 of 12 from behind the arc, but the point guard committed nine turnovers, and Tennessee scored 20 points off the Rebels' mistakes.
It was the same story in the teams' regular-season meeting on Jan. 16, which Tennessee won 71-69 in overtime.
"Down the stretch in these types of games, you've really got to have a lot of energy," Chism said. "You've got to really make plays down the stretch because a lot of teams aren't going to give up because they know what's at stake."