NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Vanderbilt's chances of making it to the SEC Tournament Championship were derailed by a forgettable first half on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena as Kentucky held off the Commodores 69-56 to advance to Sunday's tournament final.
Second-seeded Kentucky (24-7) built a 25-point lead in the first half and took a 22-point lead into the locker room as third-seeded Vanderbilt (20-11) scored just 11 first half points -- its lowest halftime output since scoring 10 points in 2008 at LSU.
The Wildcats would extend their lead to as many as 27 points with 11:37 to play before Vanderbilt staged a furious rally with a 23-5 run to pull within eight points with 3:07 to play in the second half. However, the comeback proved to be too little too late, as Vanderbilt never got any closer.
The eight-point margin could have been less had the Commodores converted from the foul line. After a free throw by Tiffany Clarke cut Kentucky's lead to 13, 56-43, with 4:40 to play, Vanderbilt missed six straight free throw attempts. The final miss came with the Commodores trialing by 10 (58-48) with 2:39 to play.
"This was a tough one," Head Coach Melanie Balcomb said. "I have to give credit to Kentucky. They came out energized, physical and just really put us on our heels right away. We should have been ready for it having played them twice. We didn't respond well.
"In the second half when our backs were against the wall, we were a pretty good team. We fought back and I'm proud of our effort in the second half."
Vanderbilt's hopes of claiming its seventh SEC Tournament title were lost in the first 10 minutes of the first half as the Wildcats jumped out to a 22-2 lead after the Commodores scored the game's opening basket. Vanderbilt scored its second basket of the game with 9:23 to play after being held scoreless for 10 minutes, 12 seconds of play.
In the team's first meeting of the year in Lexington, Kentucky used a similar 30-5 first half run to pull away from the Commodores heading into the locker room.
Similar to its two previous losses to the Wildcats, turnovers were again an issue for Vanderbilt. The Commodores averaged 22 turnovers in the earlier meetings and Saturday wasn't any better as Vanderbilt tied a season high with 25 miscues, including 16 in the first half.
Vanderbilt was bidding for its ninth appearance in the SEC Championship, but instead its loss set up a championship game Sunday between Kentucky and top-seeded Tennessee.
The Commodores were led by Tiffany Clarke, who scored 18 points and collected a career-best 17 rebounds. Her 17 rebounds ties for the 16th-most in school history. Hannah Tuomi added 12 points and Jasmine Lister had 11.
It was Vanderbilt's eighth SEC Tournament semifinal appearance under ninth-year Head Coach Melanie Balcomb.
Vanderbilt will learn its postseason fate on Monday, March 14 when the 2011 NCAA Tournament field is announced on ESPN (6 p.m. CT).