NASHVILLE — Kentucky and Tennessee struggled early in Friday's first quarterfinal games of the SEC tournament before earning victories to set up their matchup at 1 p.m. today.
No. 2 Kentucky fell behind by 11 midway through the first half before earning a 73-67 victory over Alabama. No. 15 Tennessee led Mississippi by just two with 11:08 left before pulling away for a 76-65 victory.
Alabama (17-15) stunned Kentucky early, taking a 19-8 lead. The Wildcats missed their first eight 3-pointers before Darnell Dodson's with six seconds left in the first half pulled them to 35-30. Kentucky was outrebounded 26-16 in the first half.
"You can make whatever excuse you want. Or you just say they're beating us to balls; they want it more than we do," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "So that's what we talked about (at halftime). If you want to win the game, you're going to rebound and you're going to slow the pick-and-roll down."
Kentucky (30-2) took the lead on an 11-2 run, including seven straight points by freshman John Wall (23 points, seven rebounds).
Alabama outrebounded Kentucky 45-33 overall and scored 22 second-chance points.
"To say it's a tough defeat would be an understatement," first-year coach Anthony Grant said. "Our guys came out, and we played to win. We certainly had opportunities in the game. Unfortunately, we weren't able to finish it out."
Tennessee (25-7) and Ole Miss battled through two first-half ties and five lead changes before the Vols pulled away midway through the second half. They scored 20 off turnovers, and Ole Miss (21-10) went nearly five minutes without a field goal in the second half.
Kentucky and Tennessee split two regular-season games.
"It'll be extremely emotional but a lot of fun," said Patrick Patterson, who scored 20. "We beat them the first time, and they got us at their place. So we know it's going to be an extremely emotional and tough game."
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said his team must play better if it wants to win.
"Kentucky is the best," he 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."
No. 20 Vandy 78, Georgia 66: John Jenkins made 5 of 8 3-pointers and scored 22 of his career-high 25 in the second half for the Commodores. Vanderbilt (24-7) reached the semifinals for the first time since 2004 and the second time in coach Kevin Stallings' 11 seasons. Jenkins, a freshman, made consecutive 3s, added three free throws when fouled on one, then another 3-pointer with 8:21 left to make it 59-47.
Lebo out: Auburn fired coach Jeff Lebo one day after it completed its fourth losing season in his six seasons. Lebo went 96-93 overall and 35-61 in the SEC (15-17, 6-10 this season) and reached the postseason once, the NIT last season. Lebo, who played for North Carolina in 1985-88, has three years left on his contract, which calls for a $1.5 million buyout.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.