published Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

UTC women's basketball team leaves no doubt about ability

Chattanooga's Chelsey Shumpert (25) celebrates with her team, including teammates Tatianna Jackson (33), Moses Johnson (23) and Alex Black (21), after their NCAA college basketball championship win over Davidson in the Southern Conference tournament in Asheville, N.C.
Chattanooga's Chelsey Shumpert (25) celebrates with her team, including teammates Tatianna Jackson (33), Moses Johnson (23) and Alex Black (21), after their NCAA college basketball championship win over Davidson in the Southern Conference tournament in Asheville, N.C.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Leave no doubt.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team had to make sure the NCAA tournament selection committee had no reason not to include the Mocs in the 64-team field. Even after they went undefeated in the Southern Conference regular season, their only sure entry to the NCAA event was to win the league tournament.

So they left no doubt.

Save for a defensive lapse in the second half of the Georgia Southern game in the quarterfinals, the Mocs (29-3) put together five of the best halves of basketball they've played all season. The nine-point victory over the Eagles was followed by a 77-44 win over Elon in the semifinals and a 71-45 victory over Davidson in the championship game.

Jim Foster, the first women's basketball coach to take four programs to the NCAA tournament, saw his players put together the type of performances that will make them a threat against whomever they face in a week and a half.

"I'm happy for these guys. Winning the [SoCon] tournament is a product of a lot of hard work," Foster said Monday.

When asked what might explain two of the Mocs' best performances of the season in their two most important games to date, Foster said simply:

"We're a good team. It's about time we showed how good we are."

Given close battles against Davidson during the regular season, Sunday's result caught some off guard. Yet not many people outside the program were really surprised, given the talent level on the UTC team.

"They have a lot of players returning, and they've been here before," Davidson coach Michele Savage said Monday. "Last year I thought they had more offensive players in the half court, but this year they know where they want to go with the ball. They've mainly had just three people scoring all year for them -- [Taylor] Hall, [Ashlen] Dewart and [Alex] Black -- but this year's team is more athletic so they're a better defensive team."

Those three combined for 34 points Monday, although Dewart's game was cut short with an injury after she grabbed a rebound in the first half. Her status is uncertain for the NCAA tournament, but the team feels solid regardless.

"We know that we have a bench," senior Meghan Downes said Monday. "We can play our whole team and still be really good. We have a three-headed monster down in the post because we have three who can rebound, block shots and score.

"It's lucky to be on a team like that."

To Downes' point, the production was all around Monday. Black scored a career-high 22 points. Ka'Vonne Towns scored 10 and tied a season high with five rebounds. Faith Dupree, who suffered an injury when the Mocs beat Davidson 76-62 on Feb. 1, also had 10 points in her first double-digit output since a 17-point game against Austin Peay on Dec. 18. Jasmine Joyner had four blocked shots, which gave her 10 in the tournament and 53 for the season.

Monday's game qualified Joyner for all stat categories, as that put her to having played in 75 percent of the team's games. Her average of 2.2 blocks per game is first in the SoCon and would rank her in the top 40 nationally, and she already ranks sixth all-time in blocked shots at UTC.

"Coach Foster has been wanting to work on things we haven't been doing well, and we've been working on it all year," Dupree said Monday. "When we did, it clicked and we looked great."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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