A season ago, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women saw their season come to a close in unspectacular fashion. Holding as much as a nine-point lead on Nebraska in the second half of their first-round NCAA tournament game, the Mocs faltered down the stretch in dropping a 73-59 decision.
The Mocs led by as many as nine in the second half before letting the game slip away.
"It's stinks," senior Alex Black said Wednesday.
It's a feeling that they want to make sure doesn't happen again.
The Mocs (29-3) started preparation for their 12th NCAA tournament appearance with a 7 a.m. practice on Wednesday. They will hold a practice at 6:30 this morning before departing at 2 for Lexington, Ky. Game time is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday against 11 seed Syracuse (22-9) at Memorial Coliseum, where the Kentucky women -- who face 14 seed Wright State prior to UTC's game -- play their home games.
The biggest lesson the team learned was something that head coach Jim Foster has been preaching all season long -- the importance of playing a 40-minute game.
"We had a lead," senior Taylor Hall said. "It wasn't comfortable, but in the second half we had trouble finding their best player in transition. If we hadn't lost our heads, we would have had a different result."
The player Hall was referring to was Nebraska's Jordan Hopper, who had 18 of her 21 points in the second half. It wasn't the greatest of experiences for last season's team, but it's something that Ashlen Dewart and the rest of the seniors think they can build on this time around.
"Last season, we got that lead and we started playing not to lose," Dewart said. "This year is a lot different, because we're ready and this is what we want. This is what we've worked for and fought to get, and now we're ready to play."
The team will enter the game as an underdog -- if for no other reason due to their ranking. The Mocs actually have more experience in the postseason, as the Syracuse women are playing in only their sixth NCAA tournament appearance in program history. It's their second consecutive and third under head coach Quentin Hillsman, who also directed the Lady Orange to the tournament in 2008.
"I think last season has raised our confidence to finish the game this time," Black said. "The upperclassmen can help the younger players.
"We have nothing to lose. We're going to play as hard as we can, and I think performing well would be important for the seniors."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.