published Thursday, January 5th, 2012

SoCon schedule resumes for UTC

The victory over Tennessee is up there in the memory box.

The two Southern Conference tournament championship victories are forever ingrained inside the cranium of Mocs coach John Shulman.

So is the last game the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga played against Western Carolina which is UTC's opponent tonight at 7 p.m.

That game would be part of Mocs lore and legend had they scored two more points and pulled off an upset instead of falling 69-68 on a last-second foul call.

Shulman will forever remember the last-second loss as "The Flu Game."

"We were down to six guys," Shulman said. "We were going to play game on Monday, then the league changed it and we played that Friday night.

"That was insane. That was crazy. You've got IV bags hanging from the top of the bus and there were six guys. We just had to figure it out and we almost won."

Jeremy Saffore was the first to get sick. He had to be quarantined from the team which startled Shulman. Then Omar Wattad became ill. Keegan Bell followed, as did others.

"We didn't even practice that week," Shulman said. "We didn't have any bodies then we weren't going to play."

The Mocs were falling like flies leading up to a game scheduled for Thursday. Discussion between officials from WCU, UTC and the SoCon eventually moved the game to Friday.

The situation became so dire that football coach Russ Huesman gave Shulman a list of players with any sort of basketball background who could put on jersey and play in case of emergency.

Bell and Wattad boarded the bus that Friday with trainers holding bags of IV fluids above their heads as they left Cullowhee about noon.

The Mocs were desperate for bodies. Shulman went so far as to ask compliance officials if a manager could play if necessary.

"They were telling me to watch Keegan get an IV first, and then he bled all over the place," said Wattad, who played 12 minutes in that game. "I can't handle blood."

This time around the Mocs will be at closer to full-strength, with the same group of players they've had available for the last five games. And that's refreshing considering the consequences of winning or losing a divisional game in the SoCon.

"Our kids are excited and ready for conference play to start back," Shulman said. "We've got a chance to be the team everybody thought we'd be."

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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