After eight trips to the NCAA women's basketball tournament and three to the Women's NIT in the past 11 seasons, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga won't be playing after the Southern Conference tournament.
The Lady Mocs lost to Samford in overtime Sunday in the semifinals of the SoCon tournament at McKenzie Arena, finishing the season at 17-14. Coach Wes Moore said UTC would not pursue a spot in the third-tier Women's Basketball Invitational.
"This program's had too much success, too much of a run," he said. "Our expectations are high, and if the WNIT called, then yes, but I realize we probably don't have the resume."
Athletic director Rick Hart said playing in anything below the WNIT doesn't "align with our goals" for the program.
"I think once you get beyond the WNIT, I don't know that the benefits outweigh having kids out of class and the travel," Hart said.
Sitting in his office Monday afternoon, Moore was still stewing over UTC's 68-66 loss to Samford, which went on to beat Appalachian State for the title. He said he hadn't yet been able to make himself watch the replay.
The Lady Mocs were up 59-52 with 3:08 to play but couldn't hold the lead. They didn't score again in regulation, missing three shots while also turning the ball over twice and fouling Samford two times.
Samford scored the first seven points in overtime, and UTC's Bailey Dewart missed a shot to tie at the end.
"It's the way the year's gone: close but not quite," Moore said.
Of the Lady Mocs' 14 losses, seven were by seven or fewer points or in overtime. It was the little things - missed free throws, late turnovers, not boxing out - that kept UTC from winning a lot more games, all-conference forward Whitney Hood said.
"With so many close games, it had to be the little things," said Hood, who led the SoCon in scoring. "Those are the things we will correct next year."
The versatile Kylie Lambert made the all-tournament second team, and Dewart is the only player UTC will lose from this season's group. She's retiring with one season of eligibility left due to chronic knee pain. Along with the rest of this season's players and the incoming freshmen, UTC will add Tennessee transfer Faith Dupree.
The 6-foot-3 forward will be eligible next January, though Moore said UTC will try to get that moved up to the beginning of the season. Moore said Dupree and the 6-2 Hood could play together, giving UTC a formidable forward duo, or they may rotate so that a big post presence is always on the floor.
"It's something we'll have to think about and look at," Moore said.
The Lady Mocs saw their streaks of 11 straight SoCon regular-season titles and 11 straight trips to the postseason end this season, but Moore said he wasn't panicking.
"Be motivated? Yeah, no doubt. Be frustrated? Yeah," he said. "But I'm not going to scrap the way we do things."