ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Sitting in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga locker room at halftime with zero points, Taylor Hall knew she needed to assert herself more.
This was the semifinals of the Southern Conference women's basketball tournament and the top-seeded Lady Mocs were in a tight battle with rival Appalachian State, the No. 4 seed. These are the moments that tend to bring out the best in the junior forward, who had 24 points and nine rebounds in UTC's upset of Tennessee to open the season.
Hall rose to the occasion Sunday at the U.S. Cellular Center, scoring 17 second-half points, going 11-for-11 from the free-throw line and leading the Lady Mocs to a 72-67 win.
"I knew we needed to attack, and I tried to make that happen," said Hall, who also grabbed eight rebounds.
Appalachian State coach Darcie Vincent described Hall as the "thorn in our side." In three games against ASU (20-10) this season, Hall averaged 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds.
With the win, UTC (28-3) stretched its win streak to 18 games, the fourth longest streak in school history. More importantly, it sent the Lady Mocs to championship game for the first time since they won it in 2009-10.
"This is where we wanted to get, but we know we aren't finished yet," said senior Kayla Christopher (nine points, three steals).
The Lady Mocs will face No. 2 seed Davidson (21-11) at 3 p.m. today. The Wildcats beat No. 3 Elon 71-61 in the second semifinal.
In a game that featured 16 ties and 12 lead changes, the Mountaineers led 60-55 with 5:31 to play following a drive by Raven Gary, who led all scorers with 19 points. Hall scored four points in a 6-0 UTC run to regain the lead, 61-60.
UTC was in front 67-64 with 2:02 remaining after Ashlen Dewart made a pair of free throws. Dewart finished with 16 points and eight rebounds against her former team.
Christopher went 1-for-2 from the line with 27.0 seconds left, pushing the lead to a pivotal four points. Pivotal because moments later ASU's Maryah Sydnor hit a long 3-pointer to make it 68-67.
The Lady Mocs inbounded the ball under their basket with 20.5 seconds left and ASU whiffed on its first attempt to foul Hall˙, which allowed her to run 7.1 seconds off the clock before being fouled.
Hall was automatic from the line in the game and UTC was 22-for-27. In the final seconds not every shot was a swish, but they went in and UTC is back in the SoCon title game.
"As long as it goes in, I'm not picky about how it happens," Hall said.
In the regular season, UTC won a four-point game against ASU at McKenzie Arena on Jan. 26, and then crushed the Mountaineers by 24 points last Saturday. There was never a hint of repeat blowout Sunday.
The Lady Mocs will be trying for their ninth championship and NCAA bid in coach Wes Moore's 15 seasons at UTC. Getting in this position wasn't easy, he said.
"Our kids stepped up and made plays when they needed to," Moore said, "and obviously they've been doing that all year long."