The memories started coming in waves as Mocs student-assistant Johnny Taylor began helping head coach Will Wade prepare for tonight's game at the University of Georgia.
They were memories of himself, Willie Young, Wes Moore, Chris Mims and the rest of the 1996-97 Mocs who made University of Tennessee at Chattanooga school history by reaching the Sweet 16.
It started with a 73-70 win against Georgia.
"We were up big and those guys came storming back," said Taylor who is helping coach the Mocs while finishing up his degree after 15 years of playing professional basketball. "I remember feeling like, 'If we lose this game I'm going to be sick,' because I was on the bench with foul trouble.
"But we had another super-star [Young] on that team who carried us."
UTC hasn't played Georgia on the hardwood since that historic victory with the 14th-seeded Mocs upsetting the third-seeded Bulldogs on in Charlotte on March 14, 1997.
The game at 7 tonight in Stegeman Coliseum on UGA's campus is the first of a two-for-one series with the Bulldogs. It comes with at $90,000 check from UGA to UTC, and the Bulldogs promise to play UTC in McKenzie Arena next season.
"The programs are in different spots now than they were in '97," Wade said. "But that [tournament] game has historical significance with our fan base, and it's part of our proud tradition. I don't remember it myself, but I've read up on it, know it a little bit about it, and Johnny has talked about it."
UTC led 20-2. The Bulldogs crawled back in contention, and Taylor fouled out with 1:51 remaining with UTC leading 67-65. Young scored five points in the final two minutes to keep the Bulldogs at bay. He finished with 24 points and Taylor had 19 in the first of the Mocs' two upset victories in the 1997 NCAA tournament.
"That was the first step in a rather exciting journey we had," said point guard Wes Moore who played 34 minutes. "You can't help but remember that as the Cinderella team everybody was pulling for us.
"I can't go [tonight] but I'll be here in Chattanooga watching it somehow."
The crowd will be decisively against the Mocs tonight. But Taylor, as he thought about it on Saturday afternoon, came up with a few ideas that could help the 2013-14 Mocs (3-5) pull off a regular-season upset of the Bulldogs (2-4).
After all, most of the players on this team from a one-bid league grew up -- like Taylor -- dreaming of playing for a power-conference school such as Georgia.
"Personally, it was a historical moment," Taylor said. "I remember having that chip on my shoulder and wanting to compare myself against the top players from bigger universities."
These Mocs failed to measure up last Monday in a 106-65 loss at No. 22 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion. These Bulldogs have already lost to one Southern Conference team in Davidson. They're not UCLA. And they're not worthy of a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tourney.
But they're still an SEC school.
"The guys that we have in that lockerroom are a different group of guys than played in '97," Taylor said. "But we're a blue-collar team. We're a scrappy bunch.
"When the game is over, Georgia is going to know that they played against the Chattanooga Mocs."
They knew in 1997.
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
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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