UTC senior Bria Dial has perservered with Mocs

Staff photo by Robin Rudd / UTC's Bria Dial dribbles outside the 3-point line as UNC Greensboro's Jaylynn Brown defends during Friday's game at McKenzie Arena. Dial scored a game-high 16 points, and the Mocs never trailed, leading 34-17 at halftime and winning 57-41.

As the final episode of the 1990s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" draws to its conclusion, show star Will Smith stands alone in an empty living room, his hands in his pockets as he looks around sadly before turning out the lights.

That's probably how University of Tennessee at Chattanooga forward Bria Dial looked after her sophomore season with the Mocs.

Once part of a five-player freshman class, Dial was a solo act by the start of her junior season. Jacobi Lynn transferred to Tennessee Wesleyan after her freshman year, and Brooke Burns (stepped away from basketball), Rochelle Lee (transferred to North Texas) and Mya Long (Alabama A&M) left UTC after year two, which was also the first season under new head coach Katie Burrows, who was promoted from assistant at her alma mater after the retirement of Jim Foster in spring 2018.

The Mocs went 14-17 in the 2018-19 season, but they had a winning record in Southern Conference play and reached the tournament semifinals. They were 11-18 overall last season, but their conference mark was 10-4 as they earned a share of the regular-season championship. They're currently on a three-game winning streak and solidly in the upper half of the eight-team league standings.

Whatever was going on around her, good or bad, Dial never wavered.

"When some did not stick it out with me, she did, and I just appreciate that about her and her willingness to take on a challenge of another new coach and to just really grow with me," Burrows said. "She's very stoic; she doesn't show a lot of expression, but she'll say things under her breath and you know she just gets it, she really does, and I'm just so thankful for her being here with us this entire time."

There was a late addition to Dial's class in Liz Wood, a former walk-on who has been on scholarship the past two seasons, and the pair of seniors will be honored Sunday when the Mocs (13-8, 8-4 SoCon) try to sweep their two-game series against UNC Greensboro (6-15, 4-8) at 1 p.m. at McKenzie Arena. It's the final game before UTC closes its regular season Thursday night at East Tennessee State, with the conference tournament March 4-7 in Asheville, North Carolina.

"I feel like I'm grateful to be here, and all praise to the people who were here and moved on, but I don't know. I feel like we would have been very good if everybody would have stayed, even better," said the 6-foot Murfreesboro native who helped Brentwood Academy win three TSSAA state titles.

"For me, I feel like Chattanooga is a place that was close to my family. I enjoy my family being able to come to all my games, and I didn't have a problem with anything that was going on, so I wasn't tempted at all. I feel like nobody could have changed my mind because I feel like it's what I want to do with my life, not everybody else's."

This doesn't have to be the end for Dial at UTC. Because of the NCAA's blanket waiver allowing an additional year of eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic, she could return and continue to grow and evolve, which has been a staple of her career.

As a freshman, she was primarily a defensive stopper who shot 3-pointers on offense - Burrows said recently that Dial was "terrified of layups" her first season - but has since grown to the point where she attacks the basket on drives and has created offensive opportunities for her teammates. She has consistently improved as a shooter, converting a career-best 34% from 3-point range this season, when she has also averaged a career-best 12.2 points per game. She ranks seventh in program history with 83 career blocks, and with 132 career 3-pointers, she is 14 makes out of 10th place.

She's not sure about that next step - as far as next year, or in life - and that's fair for now. As the current face of a proud program that has been to the NCAA tournament 15 times but not during her career, Dial's focus is trying to help guide an inconsistent team: UTC has shown flashes of being the best in the SoCon this season, but at other times the Mocs have seemed capable of being beaten by anyone in the league.

Her basketball career could have taken a different path. Maybe if all the freshmen in her class stayed around, she wouldn't have had the same chance to develop. Or maybe they all would have developed together, which would have put a tournament-caliber group on the court, something Burrows has still been able to do through recruiting and transfers.

"I'm super motivated, especially with this team," Dial said. "I feel like we're definitely good enough to get to the championship, so I'm really excited to see what we're going to do when we get to the conference (tournament), and hopefully we get the results that we want, because I definitely think we're good and I've said that from the start.

"Even after we've played everyone, I feel like we're the best team so far."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.