University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball coach Jim Foster treated the weeks, days and even minutes leading up to Saturday's Southern Conference game against visiting Samford just like he would any other game.
But the video montage following the Mocs' 63-50 defeat of the Bulldogs -- which included clips from former UTC coach Wes Moore, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, among others -- suggested that the win was unlike any other in his career.
It was the 800th of Foster's coaching career, making him the ninth women's coach in Division I history to achieve the feat and 11th coach to do so. With family and an announced attendance of 3,854 -- 10th largest in the program's history -- Foster received the game ball from athletic director David Blackburn as the Mocs improved to 17-3 on the year and 9-0 in conference play. The win was their 35th straight home win and 25th consecutive in conference play and their 13th win in a row.
"The video was harder to watch than the game," Foster said. "You see those folks, and it makes you want to go out and have dinner with them tonight, but this time of year you can't. When you do, though, you remember what a good belly laugh is about.
"My concern is for you guys, because you're going to have to think of a new question next week. You've been on this one for a month, but I'm happy to get [No. 800] out of the way, and happy to get it against a well-coached team."
The Mocs never were able to pull away from the pesky Bulldogs. Taylor Hall scored a game-high 22 points to go along with six rebounds, six steals and three assists, while Ashlen Dewart added 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but they represented half of the team's scoring, and Dewart spent the final 8:21 on the bench due to Samford playing a smaller, quicker lineup.
UTC led 33-23 at halftime despite shooting 39 percent from the field, with six offensive rebounds leading to seven second-chance points, seven points off nine Samford turnovers and 16 points in the paint. Dewart and Faith Dupree combined for 14 points and six rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
The Mocs appeared to be coasting in the second half, taking a 43-27 lead on a layup by Hall with 13:46 remaining, but Samford went on a 10-3 run, cutting the lead to nine. The guests cut the margin to 55-48 on a layup by Gordon Lee graduate Kassidy Blevins with 1:33 remaining, but Hall scored the final eight points to put the game away.
"Samford is really hard to guard," Hall said. "They are very good at reading and reacting to the defense and getting good shots. They went small on us, which we haven't seen much, but I'm glad to be a part of this win today. It's an amazing accomplishment, and I couldn't be happier for Coach Foster."
Ellen Riggins led the Bulldogs (5-15, 3-6) with 14 points, while Blevins added 13. Northwest Whitfield graduate Christy Robinson had eight points, three assists and two rebounds in 25 minutes of play. UTC limited Samford to 3-for-12 shooting from 3-point range and forced 17 turnovers.
"I thought we played very well defensively," Foster said. "We didn't want them to get 3s, and we did a great job taking that away from them. We've finished the first half of the year of conference games, and now we get to do it again. We have an idea of who and what are out there, and now we can tweak ourselves relative to what people think they can do against us."
UTC plays this coming Saturday at Davidson, starting at noon. The Wildcats lost 74-66 at Appalachian State on Saturday, which gives the Mocs a 2 1/2-game lead in conference play.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.