Wes Moore was smiling as he walked out of the media room at McKenzie Arena on Monday, about 40 minutes after his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team clinched its 12th Southern Conference title in 14 seasons.
His parting words: "I'm going to go watch film. See y'all."
Moore and the Lady Mocs haven't had much time to relax this season. Yes, UTC is 25-3, with a 15-game win streak. Yes, the Lady Mocs are 18-1 in SoCon play heading into Saturday's finale at Appalachian State.
All that makes it seem like UTC breezed through the SoCon schedule with little difficulty. That's hardly the case. There were blowouts -- a 43-point win over Furman, a 42-point rout of Western Carolina last Saturday, among them -- but there were also plenty of games that required the Lady Mocs to make key plays in the closing minutes.
Of UTC's 18 SoCon wins, 11 were by 15 points or less and six were by single-digit margins, including Monday's 68-59 title-clinching win against second-place Davidson. UTC won at Davidson, 60-56, on Jan. 18.
"There were so many close games and our kids just stepped up. The game was on the line and somebody stepped up and made the big shot or got the big rebound or made a big stop," Moore said. "I'm very proud of what they've done."
The Lady Mocs had gone two seasons without a SoCon regular-season or tournament title, a stretch Moore termed a "hiatus." He said it was "very important" that UTC get back on top this season, and he put pressure on himself to do so.
"I did not sense that pressure," UTC interim athletic director Laura Herron said, "but he is somebody that is wonderfully never satisfied with what he's accomplished."
Moore was often unsatisfied with how UTC was winning this season. Scoring droughts and slow starts were often a problem.
The Lady Mocs jumped out to a 17-2 lead at Samford on Jan. 23, and won 66-60. They led the College of Charleston by 21 twice in the second half on Jan. 14, only to see the margin cut to two points with 3:35 to play in the 64-53 win.
"[The close wins] make it a lot sweeter," said senior Kylie Lambert of her second SoCon title. "Davidson's a really good team and it's also sweeter because they were right there with us for a long time."
UTC and Davidson were tied for first with one league loss each for a long stretch, until Charleston upset the Wildcats on Feb. 11. That gave the Lady Mocs the smallest of cushions and then UTC sealed the championship on Monday.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...