It didn't take Alicia Payne very long to show that she's a more confident offensive player than she was a year ago.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga sophomore point guard hit two 3-point baskets in the first half of the Mocs' 82-70 season-opening win over Alabama last Friday. She made a total of four 3s during her freshman season.
Following an offseason with a lot of time in the gym shooting, Payne is prepared to be more of an offensive threat this season. She scored a career-high 11 points against the Crimson Tide, hitting two of three 3-point attempts and making five of six free throws.
"I've improved on some skills, but most of it, I think, is just confidence and believing in myself," Payne said.
As a freshman, the 5-foot-9 Memphis native averaged 14.1 minutes per game as Alex Black's backup. Payne attempted a total of four shots in UTC's first 11 games last season, making none.
She finally scored in game 12, going 1-of-4 from the field against UNC Greensboro. It didn't exactly open the flood gates -- her second basket didn't come until five games later.
Payne scored a season-high eight points against Georgia Southern on Feb. 18, going 3-for-4 from the field. In the offseason, before he left for North Carolina State, former coach Wes Moore encouraged her to get in the gym and develop her jump shot.
"That was one of the main things I did this summer was shoot, especially from the outside," Payne said.
UTC was well stocked with perimeter shooters during its 29-win run last season, so Payne didn't have to look for her own shot. But a defense that doesn't have to concern itself with guarding one player can then play five against four.
That's what some opponents did when Payne was running the offense, at least until the final third of the season when she started looking for her shot more often. She scored 37 of her 47 points in the final 11 games last season.
New coach Jim Foster said he wants all five players on the floor to be scoring threats. He got that and more against Alabama, when UTC had six players score in double figures, led by Taylor Hall with 24 points.
"I think that makes you very difficult to play against, which is good," he said, adding that he thought Payne "managed the game very well" as the point guard starter.
Up next for UTC is Thursday's visit to Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville. Fourth-ranked Tennessee (2-0) struggled in its opening win at Middle Tennessee, rallying from a 12-point halftime deficit to win by 10. There was no struggle Monday night in Chapel Hill, N.C., where the Lady Vols drilled No. 12 North Carolina 81-65.
Hall was named the Southern Conference player of the week Tuesday. A first-team All-SoCon player last season and a preseason pick for 2013-14, Hall also was the first SoCon player of the week last season, following her 22-point, nine-rebound performance in the upset win over Tennessee.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.