One of the things that separated the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga from the rest of the women's basketball teams in the Southern Conference this season was its depth.
The Lady Mocs regularly went five players deep off the bench, and it wasn't unusual for UTC's reserves to outscore an opponent's by more than two to one.
That wasn't the case in the semifinals and final of the SoCon tournament, however, when UTC's top five bench players - guards/wings Tatianna Jackson, Ka'Vonne Towns, Alicia Payne, Meghan Downs and center Faith Dupree - were a combined 11-for-28 from the field. And if the Lady Mocs are going to do anything in the NCAA tournament, the bench must be productive.
"I'm not sure what happened, but we just have to pick it up in the NCAA tournament," said freshman Jackson, who shot 52 percent during the regular season and was 5-for-16 from the field in the SoCon tournament.
In the tournament semifinal against Appalachian State, something rare happened: UTC's bench was outscored, 14-11. In the title game against Davidson, the Lady Mocs had a 16-10 advantage in their 64-63 win.
Dupree had nine of those 16 points and is fourth on the team in scoring with 6.5 points per game.
"I think our bench has been a weapon all season long, and we need to continue using that as a weapon throughout the tournament," she said.
UTC (29-3), the No. 11 seed in the Norfolk Region, faces No. 6 Nebraska (23-8) in the first round Saturday in College Station, Texas. UTC's bench averages 21.3 points per game, while the Cornhuskers' averages 20.2.
Lady Mocs coach Wes Moore said he wasn't surprised to see some of his young players struggle in Asheville, N.C.
"I knew the freshmen, it would be tough on them in the conference tournament," Moore said of Jackson and Payne.
Jackson typically finishes off her drives and fast breaks by making her layups or short jumpers. In the SoCon tournament, many of those shots were off the mark.
"I think I wanted to do well so bad that I kind of got myself nervous," Jackson said. "Coach Moore has always told us that a big part of the success here is because of the bench, so we just have to come ready to play and make things happen when it's our time."