ASHEVILLE, N.C. - With the shot clock - like her team's lead - winding down Saturday in the Southern Conference tournament quarterfinal against Georgia Southern, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga sophomore Tatianna Jackson had a pass slip through her hands. She retrieved it, turned and fired a 25-foot shot that banked in off the glass.
Just like the coaching staff drew it up.
Jackson's shot appeared to deflate the Eagles, and eight minutes later the top-seeded Mocs were on their way to the semifinals with a 66-57 victory at Kimmel Arena. UTC (27-3) will face Elon today at noon at the U.S. Cellular Center with a shot at the championship game on the line. The Phoenix edged Appalachian State 59-56.
Taylor Hall had 16 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks, while Aryanna Gilbert added 10 points and five rebounds for the Mocs. UTC had to find a way to slow the hard-charging Eagles, who hit 12 of their first 15 shots in the second half and had closed to within 50-44 before Jackson's shot.
"That 3 was a dagger," Georgia Southern coach Chris Vozab said. "We kept fighting, but that killed our momentum."
The Mocs held the Eagles scoreless for 11:15 in the first half, and without a field goal for 12:09, scoring 13 points during the stretch to build a 22-6 advantage. They led 29-18 at halftime, getting most of their points in transition.
"The energy was good at the beginning of the game," UTC coach Jim Foster said. "Later in the game we let them get an angle on us and we got a step behind, but early in the game we were aggresssive and didn't foul. [The Eagles] were taking the kind of shots they weren't accustomed to taking."
UTC had 10 assists on 14 made field goals in the second half but, because of Georgia Southern's hot shooting, could not pull away. The Mocs' largest lead of the half was 44-29 after a Chelsey Shumpert 3-pointer six minutes in, but the Eagles kept hitting shots.
Foster began tinkering with his lineup, going with a defensive-heavy group of Jackson, Gilbert, Alicia Payne, Jasmine Joyner and Ka'Vonne Towns. That quintet spent about six minutes together on the court, stretching the lead back to double digits in the process.
"I am coaching a very versatile basketball team, and I'm not afraid to use the versatility," Foster said.
Said Gilbert: "We have a deep bench and everyone can come up and play defense. Our subs brought out a lot of energy tonight."
Foster was pleased with the production of his centers, who had a combined 19 points, nine rebounds and five blocks -- four by Joyner.
Anna Claire Knight scored a game-high 20 points and had seven rebounds for the Eagles (10-21). Sierra Kirkland added 13 points in the program's final game in the Southern Conference. GSU moves to the Sun Belt Conference this summer.
"It's hard against Chattanooga when they get on those runs to kind of bounce back, because they are so developed offensively," Knight said.
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.