LEXINGTON, Ky. - Sixty-four teams enter the NCAA women's basketball tournament with dreams of earning a championship. Only one gets to realize that dream each year, but that doesn't make life any easier on the 63 that fall short.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women had their share of chances Saturday in their first-round tournament game against Syracuse, but poor shooting as well as Syracuse's length, which led to a 52-36 rebounding advantage, contributed to a 59-53 loss for the Mocs.
That ended their 25-game win streak and signaled the end of the careers of seniors Alex Black, Ashlen Dewart, Meghan Downes, Faith Dupree and Taylor Hall. The four-year players compiled a 97-36 record, which included back-to-back trips to the NCAA tournament after a 2012 NIT appearance.
"I guess I'm blessed to be a part of this program," Hall said. "Starting with Coach [Wes] Moore and onto Coach [Jim] Foster, the whole ride was fun and we had a tight bond for the team. That showed on the floor, and I'm very thankful for the experience."
The quintet played in a total of 574 games in their four-year careers. Dewart played 66 games at UTC after playing 67 at Appalachian State. Downes played in 127 games in a UTC uniform, tied for third-most all-time.
"I realized I'm blessed, and I'm glad that I transferred here," said Dupree, who started her career at Tennessee. "We're tight as a family, and this group is more personable. I'm glad I made the decision to come here, I'm glad about how my career ended up and I'm glad I was able to end my career with these girls."
Foster praised the senior class for helping the transition to his system "seamless" after Moore left for North Carolina State. The Mocs will begin the 2014-15 season with two seniors -- Ka'Vonne Towns and Destiny Bramblett, who redshirted this season. The core of the team will be in the rising junior and sophomore classes, which will return five players with starting experience: junior Alicia Payne and sophomore Chelsey Shumpert at point guard; guard/forward Aryanna Gilbert; and guards Jackson and Towns.
Foster has beefed up the schedule with home games against Tennessee and Stanford and a road trip to Notre Dame. The hope is that those games will make the team more prepared to face teams like Syracuse, who sport mostly skilled athletes that make execution of the system more difficult.
"So we better get tough," Foster said. "The seniors could have been difficult. They could have wanted to be difficult, but they were coachable, so when the freshmen walked in, they realized they were supposed to be coachable and that made coaching this team very easy.
"We need to be good enough to win in this tournament, not just get in. We need to be good enough to compete at a level in the tournament where we go somewhere in the tournament. Our league shouldn't be an excuse; who we play in January and February shouldn't be an excuse. We have to get tough enough."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.