Wiedmer: Could UTC women face Moore and N.C. State?

Wiedmer: Could UTC women face Moore and N.C. State?

March 12th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

UTC guard Meghan Downes (12) stands with her parents as she is recognized with the other seniors after the UTC versus UNCG women's basketball game on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga. The Lady Mocs won every home game this season.

Photo by Erin O. Smith/Times Free Press.

Her hard work done, yet another Southern Conference women's basketball tournament title secure, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior Meghan Downes headed home to Atlanta on Tuesday to enjoy at least a couple of days of spring break.

"This helps a lot," she said. "After playing three straight days, we need a chance to rest our bodies, put our feet up for a couple of days."

And perhaps enjoy a guilty pleasure or two, as well? A big bowl of ice cream smothered in hot fudge? A couple of late-night movies on the tube?

"I'll probably just sleep as much as I can," Downes said. "Just relax, spend some time with my family. Some of the players haven't seen their families since Christmas. We really needed this break."

They've been so good for so long, these female Mocs, seemingly always headed off to March Madness following the SoCon tourney, that it's easy to forget how amazing was their accomplishment.

With no margin for error -- "The last three games, we knew it was win or go home," senior Taylor Hall said after Monday's 71-45 victory over Davidson -- UTC rolled.

With a new coach in charge, albeit a Hall of Fame one in Jim Foster, UTC rolled.

With every team in the Asheville Civic Center primed to play its best game against the Mocs, UTC rolled.

"You're the target everyone wants to beat," Downes said. "It is a lot of pressure and it's hard to explain that pressure. You have to stay so mentally focused to reach your goal."

Yet six times in the last nine SoCon tourneys including this one, UTC has prevailed, the lone dynasty within a one-bid league and the closest thing to a sure sports thing this town has to offer collegiately.

Nor should the change in coaches from Wes Moore to Foster be ignored, however seamless that transition.

"The perception is that Coach Moore was wild and loud while Coach Foster is calm, cool and collected," Downes said. "But they both teach solid, fundamental basketball. It really wasn't that big a change. They both have the same kind of philosophy. Coach Foster really made the transition very easy."

Some of that could be age. The 65-year-old Foster is nearly nine years older than Moore. He's seen more. Done more. Suffered more, despite his 812 wins to date.

How cool, calm and collected is Foster?

Try out this quote from the postgame news conference following Monday's championship, when the coach was asked what was going through his mind during the net-cutting ceremony: "It was a time to see how long I could stay away from the ladder, because if my wife saw me on it, she'd expect me to do more work."

That might be the quote of Championship Week, be it men or women, throughout the land.

Yet what's ultimately made all this work for so long is the players who buy into the discipline, sacrifice, hard work and teamwork necessary to build a champion.

And that attention to detail theoretically could come in handy when the pairings are announced for the NCAA women's tourney on Monday evening. As this season has progressed, the UTC women have tried to watch Moore's North Carolina State team whenever the Wolfpack have been on television.

"It's been rumored that we might draw them in the NCAA tournament," Downes said. "So we've watched to see if he's kept the same plays he used to call for us. We'll laugh about it sometimes when we recognize something he ran here."

Given the NCAA's sometimes perverse sense of humor -- just ask North Carolina men's coach Roy Williams about being placed in the same bracket as his former employer, Kansas, last year -- such a rumor often has a way of becoming true.

But in this case, it might come down to simple math. In the latest RPI rankings, N.C. State stands 17th to UTC's 46th. That would theoretically give the Wolfpack a No. 5 seed and the Mocs a No. 12. And what seeds face each other in the opening round of an NCAA tournament? No. 5 versus No. 12, of course.

"We wouldn't mind playing them," Downes said. "We're happy for Coach Moore, but a lot of us would want to play the best game of our lives because he left us."

Sounds like a matchup made in television ratings heaven, doesn't it? If nothing else, it sounds like something to cost both Moore and Foster a good deal of sleep and the rest of us a good deal of excitement should it come to pass.

March Gladness, indeed.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com