The Western Carolina women's basketball team chose to focus its defensive efforts on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's inside game Saturday afternoon — an effort that proved futile as the Mocs scored 32 points in the paint. And the person the Lady Catamounts continually left open, Chelsey Shumpert, hurt them just as much.
Shumpert scored a game-high 16 points as the Mocs improved to 13-3 for the season with a 77-57 romp in Cullowhee, N.C. It was UTC's ninth straight win and 21st consecutive in Southern Conference play (fifth this season), and the Mocs improved to 8-0 when scoring more than 70 points.
The 5-foot-4 Shumpert, a freshman, had 10 points in the second half, while also adding three assists.
"At halftime, Coach [Jim Foster] just said to be aggressive," Shumpert said. "If I am open at the top of the key, then fire it up. They have to respect what I have, so that is what I did."
UTC built an eight-point halftime lead, based largely on Taylor Hall and Ashlen Dewart, who combined to score 19 of the team's 37 first-half points. The Lady Catamounts adjusted their defense and cut the margin to 37-31 on a jump shot by Kristen Lyon in the opening seconds of the second stanza, but Shumpert responded by hitting a pair of 3s, both assisted by Hall. The latter put the Mocs up 45-33, and their lead never dipped below double digits the rest of the way.
"Chelsey played very well," Foster said. "In the first half she wasn't looking at the basket in a timely manner -- she was looking at it late in the possession. They really were ignoring her, and that is not a smart thing to do because she can really shoot the ball.
"Freshmen learn as they go along where their opportunities are. After a conversation with her at halftime, she came out and made two early 3s that were appropriate and she should have taken."
Hall finished with 15 points -- going over 900 for her career -- six assists and five rebounds, while Dewart had 11 points and a team-high six rebounds. Alex Black added nine points, while Meghan Downes had a solid floor game with eight points and four assists.
The Mocs had 20 assists on 29 made baskets and shot 50 percent from the field, while committing only 11 turnovers. Western Carolina (7-8, 1-3) had 16 turnovers and were led in scoring by Lindsay Simpson's and Rena Wakama's 11 points each.
UTC finishes the road trip Monday with a game at Appalachian State (5-9, 2-2).
"Today was a good, solid win," Foster said. "We did a lot of good things, but we need to tighten up some things as we go along. Give the players credit: The game was called very, very closely, but to the referees' credit, they were consistent the whole game.
"The road trip continues now with Appalachian State, but this is part of it. It helps with your toughness, which I think is a big deal. The freshmen get to watch the upperclassmen and how they handle it, and that bodes well for them down the road."