Fans of the red-hot University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team have had to adjust their schedules slightly to make sure to be in the stands for the tip off of Mocs' home games this season.
UTC coach Jim Foster has adjusted the schedule in his second season in Chattanooga, moving up start times for most games at McKenzie Arena. Since the beginning of Southern Conference play, all weekday games start at 6 p.m. while Saturday games start at 2 p.m. for stand-alone games or 3 p.m. when the women are playing a doubleheader with the UTC men. In previous seasons, all weekday games and even many weekend games started at 7 p.m.
"We did it for a couple of reasons," he said following the Mocs' home win over Furman on Saturday. "Number one, we did this as a courtesy to our opponents. We're in a bus league, and quite frankly it's a pain in the neck to get home at four o'clock in the morning. Anything you can do to help that and help the student-athletes is a big deal.
"Also, our fan base, I think, has some age to it, and driving in the daytime is a lot easier than driving at night. So there were a few reasons for us to do this."
The earlier starts haven't impacted the Mocs performance on the court. UTC is 17-3 overall with big-time wins over Stanford and Tennessee, and they are 5-0 in SoCon play heading into tonight's 6 p.m. showdown with Samford, which is also unbeaten in league play.
"It's different from what we did in the past, but it doesn't really effect us that much," UTC senior guard Ka'Vonne Towns said. "We just get here sooner and get to play sooner.
"I like it. It ends earlier, so we're able to go out and do something if we want to."
Early tip-off or not, the Mocs will be facing perhaps their toughest SoCon test of the season tonight in the Bulldogs (11-8, 4-0), who play a deliberate style of basketball.
"They're a different type of team," junior guard Alicia "Red" Payne said. "They shoot a lot of 3s, and they run their offense for a long time just like us. I think we're going to have to focus on their type of play and just do what we do."
Foster said the Bulldogs are unlike teams UTC has faced in recent weeks, but they do resemble the Mocs' first opponent of the season -- which may help prepare them for tonight's game.
"Samford is a very different type of team than we've played. They're Villanova-ish," Foster said. "They're going to be very patient; they want to back cut you a lot, shoot the 3, move the ball. Their center will step out beyond the 3-point line and shoot the ball.
"They just play a little differently, and we have to adjust to that difference."
Freshman wing Keiana Gilbert has been learning to adjust a lot over the past few games after having success scoring early in the season, including a 27-point performance in the Mocs' 67-63 win over then-No. 4 Tennessee on Nov. 26. After SoCon play began, she was held single-digit scoring in three of her first four league games, including a six-point outing, shooting 21.4 percent from the floor in UTC's first meeting with Furman on Dec. 12.
Foster said that the Paladins were backing away from Gilbert in an attempt to force her to make low-percentage jump shots instead of driving past her defender. In the Mocs' second meeting with Furman on Saturday, Gilbert changed her style of offense, and the result was 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting in the Mocs' 67-47 win.
"We told her to make them guard you," Foster said of his instructions to Gilbert. "When you go at a person that's playing you soft, then they have to guard you, have to engage you, instead of you just taking jump shots."
After figuring out Furman's defense, Samford may try something new against Gilbert tonight. But the key to the Mocs success will be using patience on offense and ball movement to find the best shot -- not the first shot.
"If you're coming down and taking quick shots, you're playing the way the other team likes you to play," Foster said. "The only time we like to take a quick shot is when we have numbers in transition and fast break.
"In the half court you're not going to see us take a whole lot of quick shots."
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com or 423-757-6478. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.