Lady Mocs' solid guard play gives coach Wes Moore lots of options

photo Alex Black of UTC looks past Katie Brooks of Belmont during the first period of their game Thursday at McKenzie Arena.

Tenisha Townsend averaged 33.0 minutes per game last season. Now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team's senior point guard is averaging 22.3.

Townsend's minutes are down because sophomore backup Alex Black's minutes are up.

"I definitely want to play both of them," said coach Wes Moore, whose Lady Mocs (6-3, 2-0 Southern Conference) have won four straight games and host Western Carolina (4-6, 0-3) tonight at McKenzie Arena.

One reason for Black's increased playing time -- she's averaging 18.4 minutes a game -- is Moore trusts her more now than he did a year ago.

"I'm a lot more comfortable now," Black said. "Earning his trust was huge for me. Now that I'm on my way to getting more and more trust, it's a lot easier."

In Moore's world, trust typically equals minutes. If he trusts you -- to make the right decisions, to play defense, to know the system -- odds are your minutes will reflect that trust.

Black averaged 14.1 minutes a game as a freshman, but one bad pass or bad decision often led to a quick benching. Now, there are fewer mistakes and more minutes on the floor.

One of the quickest players in the SoCon, one thing Black has had to learn is when to use that quickness in transition and when, in Moore's words, "down-shifting" is the right decision.

"A good thing about Coach Moore is he does like to push the ball, so when it is open it's available for me to push the ball," she said. "Learning when to slow it down has also helped."

Townsend has started every game but two since the start of her sophomore season and has 113 career 3-pointers. She's also UTC's clutch free-throw shooter in the closing minutes of tight games. Her scoring average this season of 4.2 points is less than half of her 9.0 average last season, but Townsend said she's not worried about putting up points.

"I have four other players averaging in double figures [almost], so I'm really not looking to score a lot," Townsend said. "Setting my teammates up, that's mostly what I'm trying to do."

Black provides a different dynamic, Moore said.

"She's probably the best on our team at being able to create her own shot, which is going to make people have to make a decision about whether to help [in the paint] or not," he said. "Tenisha brings a lot of leadership and she understands distributing the ball, so they both bring some good things to the team."

Black is often the first player in off the bench, but far from the last. UTC has nine players averaging at least 9.0 minutes a game.