2014 SEC women's basketball tournament final preview: Isabelle Harrison has risen to the top

Photo by Daniel Shirley.

Isabelle Harrison dominated the paint in Tennessee's 86-77 win over Texas A&M, showing that she's not only one of the top players in her class but also the nation overall.

It was Déjà vu all over again.

Tennessee vs. Texas A&M.

SEC Tournament semifinal.

History sure has a funny way of repeating itself, as the Aggies (24-8) and Lady Vols (26-5) tussled again to decide who would be playing for the SEC championship.

But this time around, it would be another junior post that would put on a phenomenal performance for the ages: Isabelle Harrison.

Harrison did to Texas A&M in Saturday’s semifinal what Kelsey Bone did to Tennessee last year – dominate. She just wasn’t going to be denied, not yesterday.

Why one may ask?

See, the first team All-SEC performer didn’t get a crack at the Aggies last year; she just had to sit there and watch. Harrison was out with a knee injury, but the most pain she felt wasn’t from the physical, it was the emotional wound of not being able to help her teammates.

"I was honestly excited [about playing this year]," said Harrison. "And last year, I felt so bad that I wasn’t able to help the team – especially the posts. And we were lacking in that area. I’m glad that this year I was able to contribute in whatever way it was, you know? And, I just came with a mindset that we were going to win this game."

But, there was no sympathy from Texas A&M and their best low post player in last year's meeting.

Bone just bullied the Lady Vols in almost every way that you can, and she showed no remorse. Bone’s performance in that game catapulted her for the rest of the season, as she led the Aggies to the SEC championship – winning tournament MVP – before bowing out in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

This time around, Harrison made sure to make amends for last year’s absence. She showed a bevy of moves, all the while making virtuoso type plays that make her arguably the top post for the 2015 WNBA class. She was just a tour de force in every aspect of the game.

Not only was she Tennessee’s leading scorer and rebounder with 20 points and 13 rebounds, but she was also constantly the kryptonite to the twin towers of the Aggies: 6-foot-5 Karla Gilbert and 6-foot-7 Rachel Mitchell. Harrison was relentless as she ran the floor with purpose, attacked inside with such physicality and went after every rebound with such tenacity.

This caused a residual decline in Gilbert’s and Mitchell’s effectiveness. Both ended the game with 4 fouls – Mitchell’s all came in the first half. There was nothing that was going to deny Harrison from redemption.

"It definitely helped us when their posts got in foul trouble," said Harrison. "We could go inside more. We can kick it back out to our guards. That definitely helped us."

Ironically, not many people outside of Harrison – and the Tennessee coaches – thought that she would turn into the special player that she’s blossomed to.

"Izzy wasn’t the most heralded post player in her (2011) class," said Inside Tennessee’s Maria M. Cornelius. "But she has become a gem for Tennessee – and she did it with hard work."

Nobody who knows Harrison, and her fierce competitive nature, should be surprised by the drive to be great that burns within her. While she has a very tranquil nature and personality, she plays with an edge that a razor would be scared to deal with.

It was truly a role reversal, now Texas A&M coach Gary Blair was faced with a serious quandary: How to stop the most talented post player on the floor? That quandary turned into an all game dilemma as he was never able to stop No. 20.

But honestly, there was nothing that was going to stop Harrison, she was on a mission. She still has one more game to go before she can say, "mission accomplished." Her performance last night ensured that she would get a chance – a chance to achieve that goal of being called SEC champion.

"I mean...I’m blessed," said a beaming Harrison. "I was able to come back and just help my team in whatever way it was. I’m just glad we able to come through [with the victory].

Cornelius added, "Harrison is one of the best post players in the country now."

She sure is.

For more on the conference's tournament, check out our 2014 SEC women's basketball tournament storystream.

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