LEXINGTON, Ky. - If there is one distinct advantage that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team will have in today's NCAA tournament game against Syracuse, it is the experience factor - slightly more on the court and a lot more in the coaching box.
The Mocs (29-3) had a 90-minute practice Friday for today's first-round game at 1:30 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and will be the UTC's second consecutive appearance in the tournament -- the same as Syracuse, which fell 61-56 to Creighton last season as a 10 seed in Knoxville.
It will be the sixth tournament appearance for the Orange (22-9) and third under eighth-year coach Quentin Hillsman. The program is looking for its first-ever NCAA tournament victory.
The Mocs are 1-11 in the tournament and have had chances to win in their last two appearances. In 2010 they led Oklahoma State by 18 at halftime before falling 70-63. Last season, they were leading Nebraska by nine in the second half before dropping a 73-59 decision.
UTC's Jim Foster, who has 812 career wins and is the only coach in women's basketball history to take four programs to the NCAA tournament, is making his 27th tournament appearance. He's been to one Final Four, four Elite Eights and six Sweet 16s and feels the best thing to do this time of year is exactly what you've been doing all season.
"You tweak all year long, because you're getting them ready for the postseason," Foster said. "The obvious difference is that you're happy to be playing against something different. We just played three teams for the third time this year [in the Southern Conference tournament]. You can talk all you want, but it's more mental than physical when you have to do that. The sort of fresh look in front of you is a good thing this time of year."
UTC returned eight players who played in the NCAA tournament last year, while Syracuse has five. Those five returning for the Orange accounted for 13 of the team's 56 points, while the Mocs' returnees accounted for over 80 percent of their 59 points in last year's game.
The Mocs seniors believe they are ready and prepared for this moment.
"The fact that we were here last year will help us overlook the fact that we're playing in the NCAA tournament, and treat it like another game," Ashlen Dewart said. "We're meant to be here; we worked to be here; and we've earned this and we're ready to fight for it. We have to be patient and move the ball, take the right shot and knock down the shots we've been hitting all season.
"We're definitely ready for this. We're ready to play."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.