published Friday, January 6th, 2012

Mocs run away from Western, 78-62

UTC's Omar Wattad keeps control of the ball as Western Carolina's Trey Sumler approaches Thursday at McKenzie Arena. UTC won the game 78-62.
UTC's Omar Wattad keeps control of the ball as Western Carolina's Trey Sumler approaches Thursday at McKenzie Arena. UTC won the game 78-62.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Drazen Zlovaric dove headfirst on the baseline and scooped the ball back into play. Two passes later, Omar Wattad buried a 3-pointer.

Wattad dove in the other direction to save a loose ball on the next possession, which sent Keegan Bell to the free-throw line.

They are what University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach John Shulman refers to as winning plays.

And the Mocs made more Thursday night than in any previous game this season, resulting in a convincing 78-62 Southern Conference win over visiting Western Carolina in McKenzie Arena.

Shulman also calls diving on the floor, making free throws in the final minute, grabbing offensive rebounds -- and other hustle moves -- "Big Ball Winning Plays." The players who make them have the moment memorialized on a pingpong ball and tossed into a plastic tub in the team meeting room.

"Those are called winning plays and that's why you win games," Shulman said. "The little plays. Drazen got us a 3 and Omar sacrificed his body for a huge play. Effort plays win games. That may be the only things we show them on tape."

Other hustle plays include UTC's 20 offensive rebounds, which led to a 50-26 overall advantage on the glass. Zlovaric set career highs with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

"I feel like, as a team, we were making hustle plays, and rebounding the ball like we did, it showed in the end," Zlovaric said. "We fought them, and it showed in the end."

UTC (7-9, 1-2) handed WCU, a North Division opponent, its first SoCon loss of the season.

"I thought they were more aggressive to the ball and went and got it and we didn't," Catamounts coach Larry Hunter said. "I thought they out-competed us in the second half."

Ricky Taylor added 15 points and eight rebounds, Wattad finished with 12 points and six rebounds and Dontay Hampton scored 11 points for UTC. Keaton Cole led the Cats (7-8, 2-1) with 18 points and Trey Sumler had 13.

WCU led 38-36 after sinking 9 of 20 3-point shots in the first half, with Cole making four of them. UTC kept pace with Zlovaric scoring 11 points before the break and never falling behind by more than seven.

"We stayed the course and good things happened for us," Shulman said. "Sometimes you have to keep on believing that what you're doing is right. I never believed we could beat them 24 on the glass."

Beating the Cats on the scoreboard seemed to be a serious question in the second half. UTC moved ahead by nine points with 14 minutes to play, but WCU weathered the effort plays and resulting emotion to pull ahead 60-58.

The Cats did not score again until 31 seconds remained. Wattad scored on a touch-pass from Zlovaric. Then UTC scored 12 straight points in the paint for a 10-point lead. The Mocs closed it with six straight free throws in getting at least two points on their final 10 possessions of the game.

"It's a game full of runs and we kept stopping the bleeding," said Bell, who had 12 assists with eight points. "When [Zlovaric] is doing that, Omar is doing that and Z [Mason] is being the beast that he is, it's a lot of fun.

"When you see Omar diving on the floor a couple times -- that's a sight to see."

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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