Nobody within the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball program was surprised to see "Chattanooga" listed as one of the 64 teams chosen Monday night for the Women's National Invitation Tournament.
Coach Jim Foster treated last week like any other week during the season. The Mocs practiced, working on things to get better. They had no clue who their first national-bracket opponent would be, or their destination, but they believed they would be part of the festivities somehow.
UTC had the second-best Rating Percentage Index in the Southern Conference at 107, slightly ahead of fellow WNIT participant East Tennessee State (110) and behind only Mercer (48), which ran roughshod through the league with 27 consecutive wins, 17 against SoCon competition. As a result, the Mocs were able to earn a bid to the second-tier tournament for the sixth time in school history, the first since 2012 — the last time UTC didn't win the SoCon tournament and go to the NCAA nationals.
The Mocs (17-12) played 15 games this season against teams playing now in the NCAA, the WNIT or the Women's Basketball Invitational tournament, compiling a 4-11 record. They were 4-5 in the nonconference against such opponents.
They also had four wins against teams ranked in the RPI top 102, one more than Mercer and ETSU combined.
"It's a big deal to earn things and them not be handed to us," Foster said Tuesday of the at-large bid. "The schedule we play allows us to have the opportunity to do things like this. Now, you can sit down and fool yourself and accumulate a lot of wins, but when you put the stuff on paper about what it is you've accomplished, you haven't accomplished a lot."
His Mocs will play Thursday night at 7 EDT at Alabama-Birmingham. The programs haven't played each other since Nov. 21, 2013, with the Mocs taking a 63-56 win in McKenzie Arena. Foster said that since then the Blazers "didn't want to play anymore."
The Blazers (26-6), winners of Conference USA's regular-season title and automatic bid into the WNIT, are led by three all-conference players: first-teamers Rachael Childress, a 5-foot-10 forward who has averaged 14.3 points a game and made 105 3-pointers, and 5-9 guard Deanna Kuzmanic, averaging 14.1 points and 3.8 assists, and second-teamer Miyah Barnes, a 5-5 guard averaging 11.1 points and 5.0 assists. UAB's Randy Norton was voted the C-USA coach of the year.
The Blazers' bid for the program's first conference tournament title since 1994 fell short in the 2018 title game, 72-57 to Western Kentucky, but they were led by a prolific offense that shot better from 3-point range (39 percent, eighth in the country) than UAB opponents shot from the field (38.4).
If the Mocs win, they'll play the winner between Georgia Tech and Bethune-Cookman sometime from Saturday to Monday.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.