BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The effort and attitude for 40 minutes from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball Mocs helped as much as playing 2-3 zone defense in their 67-52 loss to an Alabama-Birmingham team knocking on the Top 25.
UTC players noticed the difference while on the court, and coach Will Wade noticed it while stalking the Bartow Arena sideline, talking with his bench and getting chummy with officials.
"We weren't worrying about the scoreboard as much as worrying about what we're supposed to be doing -- getting the next and the next possession," Wade said later. "We have to continue to build. We had two long days going into this. It doesn't stop here.
"This isn't the crescendo to the season."
But it may be the start of a new style as Wade and his staff examine the effectiveness of pressing in the full court and then falling back into a zone between now and the Mocs' next game on Dec. 29.
"It's obvious we're not a great man[-to-man] team," Wade said. "We can't keep beating our head against a wall. We'll change defenses a lot more than we have been."
Junior forward Lance Stokes played in the middle of the zone Wednesday night and alerted wings when opponents were crossing from one side to the other -- key when playing a zone defense.
"It was different, but it was necessary for the situation and time and score and how the game was going," Stokes said. "I think we can be good in zone. It's something we can do to switch it up."
The Blazers switched to a zone defense with great effectiveness, especially with UTC missing senior center Zaccheus Mason. It allowed post players to anchor in the paint and prevent deep penetration from UTC guards, who either pulled up for floaters or passed out for open 3-point attempts.
"They made us a 3-point shooting team," Wade said. "We got all the looks we wanted out of our sets. If you get wide-open shots, you have to take them. I can't think of one bad 3 we took."
UTC shot 8-of-30 (26.6 percent) from behind the arc and 19-of-62 (30.6 percent) from the floor overall. On the season, UTC is shooting 32.8 percent from the arc.
"We have to continue to work in the gym," Wade said. "Instead of going 8-for-30, you go 12-for-30 and get 12 more points."
Despite the team's need to shoot, the Chattem Practice Facility could be quiet for a few days. The Mocs are heading their separate ways for Christmas break this afternoon and are scheduled to return Thursday.
Martynas Bareika is headed to Memphis with his girlfriend, while Jones will endure a long bus ride to New Orleans. He said his Megabus trip will take him from Chattanooga to Atlanta, then to New Orleans in about 11 hours.
"It's going to be worth it," Jones said, "to see my family and see my mom."
And get some home cooking.
But assistant coach Casey Long should have the most memorable break. He's getting married.
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.