The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will be trying to do more than just extend its basketball season Thursday when it visits the University of Memphis in the first round of the Women's NIT. The Lady Mocs also will be trying to protect some of their turf.
UTC coach Wes Moore and his staff have had success recruiting in Memphis in recent years, and they don't want to cede that ground -- especially to a Tigers program that has improved under fourth-year coach Melissa McFerrin and is working its way toward the top of Conference USA.
"You always want to do well [against in-state opponents], and Memphis is no different," Moore said, adding that he hasn't gone head to head with Tigers on too many players. One was junior forward Nicole Dickson, of Greeneville, Tenn., who averages 10.5 points a game for the Tigers.
The Lady Mocs (22-9) will have two point guards from Memphis on next season's roster. Sophomore point guard Alex Black was an all-state player at Harding Academy and the Lady Mocs have signed point guard Alicia Payne of White Station High School. The Tigers (24-7), meanwhile, don't have a player from Memphis or north Mississippi on their roster.
Two players the Tigers do have are Georgia transfers and seniors Jasmine Lee and Brittany Carter. Lee, a forward, was the C-USA player of the year and has 15 double-doubles this season, while Carter, a guard, was second-team All-C-USA along with Dickson. The Tigers also had the defensive player of the year in guard Ramses Lonlack.
The Tigers were the preseason pick to win Conference USA and finished second to UTEP with a 13-3 record. They are big and fast and they're going to be hard to handle, Moore said.
"They're very athletic. They're going to press you, trap you, and they try to pressure you and deny passes and get in the passing lanes," said Moore, who didn't find out if UTC was in the WNIT until about 11:45 Monday night. "They're going to be a big challenge for us, no doubt, especially playing over there."
The Tigers have lost at Elma Roane Fieldhouse only once all season. The Lady Mocs and Memphis have not met since 1981 and UTC is 2-3 all-time against the Tigers. Both teams beat UAB (Memphis twice) and Belmont during the regular season.
UTC is returning to the postseason after missing it last season for the first time since Moore's first season at UTC (1998-99). The program's last WNIT appearance was in 2009, when UTC lost 81-76 at Kentucky in the first round.
The winner of Thursday's game will face the winner of Missouri-Kansas City at Missouri this weekend.
Ordinarily, the Lady Mocs would have put in a bid to host a game, and they likely would have had a good shot at hosting because of their RPI ranking (59) and average attendance (1,883). However McKenzie Arena isn't available this week because the Ringling Brothers Circus is using the facility. Moore said the earliest UTC could host a game would be the third round.