ASHEVILLE, N.C. - It wasn't so much that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team lost its Southern Conference tournament quarterfinal game Thursday as that UNC Greensboro won.
Brandi Fier hit the go-ahead jump shot with 29 seconds to go, and the Spartans ended the Mocs' 15-game SoCon tournament win streak with a 70-66 double-overtime defeat at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Despite a record scoring performance by freshman Brooke Burns, the Mocs end their 2017-18 season with a 17-12 record, while UNCG (13-17) moves on to face East Tennessee State in the semifinals today at 1:15. Mercer and Samford face off in the first game today at 11 a.m.
"I'm proud of our team's resilience and understanding how to handle a really good team," UNCG coach Trina Patterson said. "Chatt has an outstanding team and outstanding players."
The Mocs played Thursday's game without two all-conference starters: first-team selection Keiana Gilbert, who missed her third consecutive game with an ankle injury, and third-teamer Lakelyn Bouldin, whose father died from injuries sustained in a Monday car accident. Kevin Bouldin's funeral was Thursday afternoon.
The UTC players wore patches with Lakelyn's number "33" on them, and junior Shelbie Davenport placed Bouldin's jersey on one of the seats on the bench.
"I truly hated that Lake couldn't be here," senior Aryanna Gilbert said. "I really wanted to get this win so we could have the opportunity to bring her back and play with us.
"We played for her tonight. I hate we couldn't finish it for her."
In her fifth career start Burns scored a UTC SoCon-tournament-record 36 points, making 13 of 23 shots and 5 of her 11 3-point tries. She banked in a shot on a drive to force the first overtime and scored again on a drive while getting fouled in the first overtime to tie the game.
In the second overtime, Burns and UNCG's Mangela Ngandjui traded two 3-pointers each, and then Fier scored after being left alone on a baseline drive. Aryanna Gilbert missed a shot inside, and after corralling the rebound, Nadine Soliman made a pair of free throws for her only points for the difference.
The Mocs led 24-23 at halftime, but the Spartans started pounding the paint in the third quarter, building an 11-point lead. UTC responded by holding UNCG scoreless for 8 minutes and 30 seconds of game time, using an 18-0 run to build a six-point lead. Alexus Willey made a 3-pointer to cut the UTC lead to 51-48, and then the Spartans scored five straight points to lead by two with seven seconds remaining, which set up Burns' first overtime heroics.
The Spartans went up five in the first overtime, when Burns scored all seven UTC points, including another drive with four seconds to go in which she was fouled. She missed a free throw that would have won the game, and the Spartans weren't able to get a shot off.
"We knew we were the underdog and we were going to have to win this game, so we never gave up," Ngandjui said. "We just had to keep pounding the rock and eventually the rock is going to crack, so we just had to keep going."
Ngandjui had a team-high 18 points for the Spartans to go along with six rebounds. Willey finished with 16 on 3-for-3 shooting from 3-point range, while Ije Ajemba had 13 points and 15 rebounds - six offensive. The Mocs held Soliman, the Spartans' leading scorer, to 0-for-11 shooting.
The Mocs lose the Gilbert sisters, who have been part of four and three SoCon championships.
"I thought we handled the Key situation well. She's obviously one of the best players in the league," coach Foster said. "Then they come back and get hit over the head with the Lake situation. They had reasons, excuses if they wanted to quit, if they wanted to pack it in, but they didn't take any and I like that a lot about them. I would have enjoyed winning another game to see if we could get Lake back, but life is what it is.
"I think the kids learned a lot about themselves in the last 10 days."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.