ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Offensive rebounding kept the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the game. Offensive rebounding and a Kayla Christopher putback with 8.2 seconds left earned the Lady Mocs another championship.
The Lady Mocs trailed Davidson for most of Monday's Southern Conference women's basketball tournament final at the U.S. Cellular Center. Their only lead in the second half came on Christopher's tip-in, which provided the difference in a 64-63 victory and followed UTC's third offensive rebound in about four seconds.
"The last thing I said [before the play] was 'Crash, crash, crash.' ... I wasn't even sure how much time was left, so I just tipped it in," said Christopher, who along with fellow senior Kylie Lambert won SoCon regular-season and tournament titles as freshmen and seniors.
Second chances were the difference for top-seeded UTC, which had 21 offensive rebounds to Davidson's six and outscored the No. 2-seeded Wildcats 23-6 on second-chance points.
UTC (29-3) tied a program record for wins. and Monday's was the Lady Mocs' 19th in a row. UTC improved to 14-0 all-time in SoCon tournament title games, 9-0 under coach Wes Moore, and is headed back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
Moore, his hair and white shirt soaked from a celebratory cooler bath, praised his players and the work they've put in this season. UTC had gone two seasons without a SoCon title and opened this season with the upset of Tennessee, followed by 28 more wins, many of them coming in tight games like Monday's.
"It would have been such a tragedy to not advance and see what we can do [in the NCAA tournament]," he said.
Moore is 31-6 in the SoCon tournament during his 15 seasons at UTC. He now has 12 regular-season titles and nine tournament wins.
Davidson senior center Sophia Aleksandravicius, the two-time SoCon player of the year, had 18 points and 11 rebounds. A jovial Moore said in his postgame news conference that he may go to Davidson's graduation to make sure she's done.
Laura Murray had a game-high 22 points and hit four 3-pointers and took the final shot for the Wildcats (21-12), who will represent the SoCon in the WNIT. Murray drove up the left side and missed a 15-foot baseline jumper.
UTC center Ashlen Dewart had 15 points and 12 rebounds and was named the tournament's most outstanding player. The award also could have gone to forward Taylor Hall, who led UTC with 19 points. Dewart and Hall made the all-tournament first team, and point guard Alex Black made the second team.
Hall scored 17 second-half points to help UTC past Appalachian State in the semifinals Sunday. On Monday, she had two first-half points and the Lady Mocs trailed 32-27 at the break. She again scored 17 in the second, and her drive and layup with 43 seconds left cut Davidson's lead to 63-62.
Two first-half fouls limited Hall to five minutes in the first half, but she made up for it in the second.
"It was eating at me the whole first half," she said, "and I just knew that when I got a chance to get back in the game, I had to do the things I can and hopefully get us going."
UTC soon got the ball back following Hall's basket. Murray was called for a charge with 24.4 seconds left after running over Lambert near the top of the key. Moore said that was one of many calls in the game that probably could have gone either way.
After Lambert had her shot blocked out of bounds on the ensuing possession, UTC got the ball to Dewart. She missed from inside, got the rebound and missed again, but Christopher was there on the far side for the winner.
"It's a perfect way for the season to end, with Kayla hitting the winning shot," Dewart said. "I can't even tell you how important she's been to this team. The last play was just the cherry on top."