It had the makings of a turning point for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team. A bad turning point.
Despite owning a comfortable lead at Davidson on the first day of February, the Mocs watched post players Ashlen Dewart and Faith Dupree both head to the bench within seconds of each other early in the second half, Dewart in foul trouble and Dupree injured.
Into the game came lightly used freshman Jasmine Joyner, she of the 6-3 height and seven-foot wingspan. And what happened next may ultimately prove to be the turning point in this UTC team going from very good to great.
Before the day ended, Joyner had blocked seven shots to tie a single-game school record, scored seven points and pulled down eight rebounds.
"Even though we had a good lead when Faith got hurt, Jazz was probably the reason we won the game," said Mocs head coach Jim Foster. "Jazz may have the best [shot blocking] instincts [of anyone I've coached]. Great sense of timing and disciplined."
Born in Germany but a product of Southhaven High just over the Mississippi line from Memphis, Joyner has been something of a shot blocking savant since her freshman season there. According to the UTC media guide, Joyner entered the National Federation of High School Associations Record Book for blocked shots at the close of her senior season at Southhaven, ranking eighth all-time with 614.
Thanks to her 43 total blocks this season heading into this weekend's SoCon tourney in Asheville, N.C., Joyner helped the Mocs set a school record for blocked shots in a single season with 136 as a team. Joyner's blocks were the most ever by a UTC freshman.
But like most girls growing tall early in life -- "I was 5-8 in the sixth grade," she said -- Joyner struggled with such height at a young age.
"I never had a boyfriend who was tall enough for me," she recalled. "But then I started playing basketball. I blocked my first shot and said, 'I like this.' It was like, 'Don't come in this lane because it's mine.'"
It was so much hers in February that she blocked 28 shots over the month's eight games and 28 days, a stunning total for a rookie. She heads into tourney play with season-long averages of 3.6 points, 3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks despite averaging less than 11 minutes a game of court time.
"I've surprised myself," she said on Wednesday morning at the close of practice. "I never dreamed I'd be playing this much, not with all our seniors."
But it also says a lot about about UTC's six-member senior class that Joyner and the rest of the Mocs' less experienced teammates have always felt wanted and appreciated.
"Most seniors are not going to let freshmen take over their spot," she said. "They want all the minutes. But Ashlen and Faith and the rest of that class have helped me a lot."
And now all those seniors, including a healthy Dupree, are trying to help Joyner and the rest of their teammates prepare for tourney play, when your first bad outing might end your season.
"They've told us how intense it is," said Joyner, who has a tattoo of the word "Believe" on her left shoulder highlighted by a cross. "A team can have a bad record but play great one day and you play bad and your season could be over. I won't say we feel pressure, but everybody's after us."
But the Lady Mocs are also after something pretty big, something to dwarf even a 7-foot wingspan -- the automatic NCAA Tournament berth that comes with being the SoCon tourney champ. They'll start that quest Saturday at noon against either Georgia Southern or Wofford.
"Jazz just gives us another dimension," Foster said. "There aren't a lot of people actually adding something to their team this time of year."
Especially teams with 26-3 records on a 22-game winning streak.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com