Chattanooga Mocs' confidence boosted despite loss at Kansas

Chattanooga Mocs' confidence boosted despite loss at Kansas

November 17th, 2012 by David Uchiyama in Sports - College

Chattanooga head coach John Shulman talks from the sideline.

Photo by Contributed Photo

There were three freshmen and two sophomores playing basketball at the same time for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Thursday.

It will happen often this season because eight of coach John Shulman's top players are underclassmen.

But the scoreboard doesn't show age or experience.

There they were, the Mocs leading at No. 7-ranked Kansas in fabled Phog Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks have lost only seven games in the last eight seasons.

Freshmen and sophomores on a team from a one-bid league aren't supposed to lead by 12 points late in the first half, by eight at halftime or by 10 in the second half. They're supposed to crumble right from the beginning under the weight of 16,300 fans and a sign that reads: "Pay heed all who enter: Beware of the Phog."

The Mocs did not wilt until the second half of a 69-55 loss.

"They looked very poised," Shulman said on a bus ride home from the Nashville airport. "I don't know what to attribute that to."

And they did not play with the jitters that nagged them in the season opener at home against Tennessee Temple. Some shots Monday hit the side of the backboard or missed everything, and nerves were evident frequently with errant passes and a level of confusion.

"Everybody did their part and their role [Thursday]," Shulman said. "There are going to be some nights where you're, 'Wow, look at these freshmen.' And there will be nights where you'll be, 'Wow, look at these freshmen,' but with a completely different tone."

The Mocs obtained their first lead on a fast-break bucket by senior Drazen Zlovaric less than two minutes into the game. UTC led at the under-16-minute media timeout and the under-12-minute timeout, too.

UTC, with four guys directly from high school, went into halftime ahead 36-28.

"In my eyes, they showed a lot of maturity," Zlovaric said on the bus ride back. "This was not only their first road game, but against the No. 7 team in the country and at one of the toughest places to play. Considering all that, they showed maturity. They showed great poise.

"I never saw any fear or anything that they were nervous. From the start, I thought they played great."

Farad Cobb had the best night of the bunch. He scored 21 points on seven 3-pointers, with six of them coming in the first half. That's a stark improvement from Monday when he went 1-for-5 from the arc and 3-for -11 from the floor against Temple.

"The first night I got a lot of looks and they didn't go in," Cobb said on the postgame radio show Thursday. "Tonight they did. I feel pretty good about tonight's game. We played together."

Kansas coach Bill Self made the halftime adjustment of guarding Cobb with 6-foot-6 Travis Releford, who limited Cobb to three points in the second half and spurred the Jayhawks' 19-1 run that gave them control of the game.

That one move changed the feel and eventually the outcome of the game. But it doesn't change the fact that UTC's freshmen, sophomores, juniors and Zlovaric played better than they did Monday.

They took a big leap forward. But with such a young bunch, it's possible for them to take two steps back with three games in three days coming up.

"I do think they had a maturity to them," Shulman said. "That doesn't mean they've arrived. They're not close."

But they were better Thursday in an angry environment against one of the best teams in the country than they were at home against a team in their same town but not close to the same level of competition.

"We did a lot of good things offensively that didn't show up in the box score, and there were a lot of plays that Kansas made that people in our league can't," Shulman said. "Let's just go see if we can build on it."