CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. --- Despite a seemingly disappointing end to the 2012-13 season, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women’s basketball team went out a winner Saturday as did Austin Whitten and all the fans who filled the stands Saturday at Lafayette High School.
The Lady Mocs started the morning early Saturday with a clinic for girls age 8-14 to help raise money for Steps2Hope Team Austin. Money raised from the event will go to help Austin Whitten, a student at Lafayette High School who was injured in a swimming pool accident. He is currently paralyzed from the chest down.
After a break for lunch, UTC took a seat and challenged the wheelchair basketball team, the Stealers, from the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Of the seven team members who made the journey to Lafayette, four are members of the Championship team and are in Louisville, Ky., this week to compete in the national championships.
It took almost the entire game for the Lady Mocs to catch on, but that didn’t stop them from running up the score with help from the fans. After the first quarter, Taylor Hall was the only UTC player to find the net. Despite giving up 34 points to the Stealers, the Lady Mocs led 150-34 as they gained one point for every dollar donated to Team Austin.
Chattanooga tried trick plays and even managed to draw fouls, but it was not until two members of the Stealers jumped ship to help the Lady Mocs did they begin to score. After a very entertaining and somewhat physical game, UTC came away with a 255-224 victory and gave interim head coach Katie Burrows her first collegiate victory.
The evening concluded with a celebration of an amazing year on and off the court. It was a year that started with a strong win over the Lady Vols who would go on to advance to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament and ended with an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Former head coach Wes Moore was on hand for the banquet and recognized each of the Lady Mocs for their contributions on and off the court. He handed out the Southern Conference Championship plaques to each of the players and managers before turning his attention to the team awards.
Ashlen Dewart brought in the large haul. She was recognized for leading the team in scoring (15.3 ppg), leading the Southern Conference in field goal percentage (53%) and rebounding (7.2 rpg). Taylor Hall received the award for free throw shooting percentage, making 80.6 percent of her shots and was 11-of-11 from the charity stripe against Appalachian State in the SoCon semifinals. That is the second most free throws made without a miss in school history.
Senior Kayla Christopher climbed to the No. 2 spot in the school standings for 3-pointers made and ranked high among the league in 3-point field goal shooting percentage. Moore recognized the feat with an award to the outgoing senior with the 3-Point Field Goal Percentage Award. Christopher made 63-of-164 (38.4%) on the year and closed out her career with 227, second most in school history and third all-time in the SoCon. She was also awarded the Playmaker Award for posting a 2.1 assist-turnover ratio. She had 99 assists, 3.0 per game, and 47 miscues, 1.4 per game and led the league in that category.
Classmate Kylie Lambert was awarded the Coach’s Award. Lambert was called upon to play many different roles for UTC from shooting the “three” to guarding the opposing team’s best player. She was one of the Lady Mocs’ top rebounders and closed out her career with more than 600.
Dewart, Hall and Christopher were all named to the SoCon Coaches All-Conference Team and Tatianna Jackson earned a spot on the all-freshman team. Dewart received her SoCon Tournament MVP plaque and teammates Taylor Hall and Alex Black were given their plaques for earning a spot on the all-tournament team as well.
The Lady Mocs posted an overall record of 29-4, tying the most wins in school history and closed out the regular season and ran through the tournament with a 19-game win streak. UTC went undefeated on its home court for the second straight year. That 26-game streak is the second longest in the nation behind Baylor.
The largest accomplishment, by far, was Chattanooga’s return to the top of the Southern Conference standing with its 18th league title, 12th in Wes Moore’s 15 years at the helm.
In the tournament, the Lady Mocs made quick work of Georgia Southern in the quarterfinals before moving on to face Appalachian State in the semis. Hall and Dewart combined for 33 points in the 72-67 win over the Mountaineers and each pulled down eight rebounds. Hall, with a team-high 17 points, was perfect from the charity stripe with 11 free throws and Dewart made all four free tosses against her former team.
In the finals, the Lady Mocs started the game with a lead against Davidson, but never by more than six points. Laura Murray scored five of the next seven Davidson points and the Wildcats would not trail again until the final score of the game.
Chattanooga trailed by 11 points early in the second half and would get as close as three points midway through the period. Down the stretch, Hall scored 10 of Chattanooga’s 19 points in the final 10 minutes and was 3-of-4 from the free throw line and had a 3-pointer, but it was Kayla Christopher’s putback after two missed shots with 8.2 seconds on the clock that gave Chattanooga its first lead since the 11:40 mark of the first half. Davidson missed its chance on the other end and the Lady Mocs won their 14th league tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 11th time in school history.
The Lady Mocs were awarded an 11 seed for their hard work throughout the year and traveled to College Station, Texas to take on six-seed Nebraska (#24) of the Big 10. The Cornhuskers started the game with a 4-0 lead, but Hall dropped in the first of her season-high tying three 3-pointers to put Chattanooga on the board.
Alex Black hit the first of her four 3-pointers to give Chattanooga the lead, one it would not relinquish until just before the half when Nebraska tied it up at 32-32.
The Lady Mocs started the second half outscoring the Huskers 15-6 for their largest lead of the game, 47-38, with 15:49 to play. However, Nebraska would not go away and quickly turned the tables to a 50-49 lead with 10:29 to play. UTC would lead just twice more in the game but never by more than one point and the Huskers went on to secure the win and advanced to the second round with a 73-59 win.
Moore accepted a position to be the head coach at NC State. Making the move with him are long-time assistants Nikki West and Mike Murray. Former Lady Moc Katie Burrows opted to remain in Chattanooga and was named interim head coach while a search is underway for Moore’s successor.