Saturday afternoon, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team will face its biggest rival. But before that, the Mocs will have to face the only Southern Conference team they haven't beaten this season.
The Southern Conference's second-place team faces a big week on the court, with home games against Mercer and East Tennessee State. Two of the Mocs' three overtime games this season were played against the teams they'll face this week, with UTC defeating ETSU's Buccaneers 74-71 on Jan. 10 but dropping a 75-72 decision to the Bears in Macon, Ga., on Jan. 29.
UTC has won its last two games, including a road victory over first-place Wofford. The Mocs will need to exact some revenge against the Bears (15-12, 10-4), who remain a game behind them but would hold a tiebreaker if they were to win Thursday.
"We owe Mercer one," sophomore guard Tre' McLean said. "ETSU is a rivalry game, so everybody is always up for rivalry games, but Mercer is the one we want. We know it's a big week, so we know we've got to get back in the gym and get to work."
The Mocs went through a two-hour practice Monday in preparation for Thursday. Coach Will Wade said the primary concern is working on the little things that got his team beat at Mercer.
"Mercer is a really good team," he said. "They're a great offensive team -- the most efficient in our league -- and we've got to play better than we did down there. We have to guard a little better and give ourselves a chance. I thought that (Darious) Moten was the difference: He really hurt us down there."
The 6-foot-6 Moten was 8-for-11 from the field in the first meeting, finishing with 21 points.
"This is a big week," Wade said. "We've got two big home games, but we have to work on ourselves first this week. There are certainly things we have to get better at: We're giving up too many offensive rebounds; we have to execute better. There are certainly things we can improve on, but our guys will be excited. They're home games and they will be excited to play, but we have to understand that excitement only carries us so far.
"We have to get to an even-keel spot and know that at the end of the day, it's our five guys against theirs."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.