published Friday, December 6th, 2013

December breaks allowing Chattanooga Mocs to heal, improve

  • photo
    UTC's Z. Mason (30) dunks on Covenant at McKenzie Arena.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team finished a five-game road trip that included three airplane flights in eight days with an 86-57 loss Monday night at Georgia.

The Mocs needed a break.

They're getting one by going eight days between Monday's loss and next Tuesday's contest against Hiwassee at home. UTC (3-6) will play only three games over a span of 26 days between the Georgia game and the start of the Dr Pepper Classic against Grand Canyon. The other games are Dec. 14 at Northern Kentucky and Dec. 18 at Alabama-Birmingham.

"Everybody is trying to get healthy and get a few wins before Christmas," senior Zaccheus Mason said after practice Thursday. "I need to rehab and get my body back feeling right from the rough patch we've had."

Playing just three games in such a long stretch allows the Mocs to improve with more practice.

Instead of adding to their playbook or expanding defenses in the "Chaos" system, coach Will Wade would prefer that the Mocs sharpen what they do well and improve on their weaknesses.

"I'm trying to focus in on just a couple where if we get better in those areas, we'll get the most return on our investment," Wade said Thursday. "We're working on on-the-ball defense, sprinting through our offense and flowing into our 'Rose' actions."

With only one victory against a Division I team, there is plenty to improve in UTC's first year with Wade as the coach.

"We're not good enough at what we do," he said. "We can't add anything. Well, we will on a game-by-game basis, but it's more combining that adding.

"We had in three new plays for Georgia, but we never got to them."

During the breaks between games, players also are expected to practice on their own -- as time allows during the final exam period, which started Wednesday -- in the Chattem Practice Facility.

UTC is shooting 46.3 percent from the floor and 33.5 percent from the 3-point line. Against Division I competition, the Mocs are shooting 42.9 percent from the floor but only 30.1 percent from the 3-point line.

"We're putting a lot of time into shooting," Wade said. "Let's see if we can make another one and a half 3s per game, which could be the difference in those games."

Healing nicks and bruises is also a priority during December. Sophomore Casey Jones injured his hip Monday and did not play in the second half. He'll be OK; he could play today if there was a game.

Freshman point guard Greg Pryor made two in-game trips to the locker room Monday to help his hip. He could play today, too.

"I'm trying to recover and get better, and I need to get my legs back under me," Pryor said. "My shooting and ball-handling needs to get better.

"As a team, we have to get closer, talk more and encourage more, and we have to work on defense."

While Pryor's hip is sore, the hip of junior guard Ronrico White has healed enough from surgery in July that he participated in about 20 percent of Thursday's practice. There is no target date for his return to the rotation.

"I send [director of sports medicine] Todd Bullard the practice plan and he picks out the drills that Rico will do. Then we see how he feels," Wade said.

All of the Mocs should feel better with a little rest and a lot of practice.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

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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