The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team went back to a formula that bred success early in the season during Saturday's game at Mercer.
As the Mocs would find out, it was still successful.
Raven Thompson dominated the first half against the Bears with 17 of her game-high 23 points, Jada Guinn got going in the second half with 17 of her 21, and the Mocs benefited from some timely contributions from all of their players at Hawkins Arena in Macon, Georgia. Along with the team's 13-for-13 performance at the foul line in the fourth quarter, it added up to a 61-52 win that tightened UTC's stranglehold on the Southern Conference standings.
The Mocs (21-3, 9-0) hold a two-game lead over second-place Wofford (15-8, 7-2) with five games remaining in the regular season, and they already have a head-to-head win against the Terriers, 57-51 on Feb. 1 at McKenzie Arena. The rematch comes in the regular-season finale on March 2 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Wofford earned the No. 1 seed for the SoCon tournament a year ago, but the second-seeded Mocs beat the Terriers in the title game.
Although either Guinn (18.2 points per game) or Thompson (14.8) has been the leading scorer for the Mocs in every game this season outside of the opener, UTC's formula for success is also very much about those contributions from their teammates — offensively and otherwise.
Sigrun Olafsdottir knocked down a pair of 3-pointers for all of her points against the Bears (10-15, 4-5), but UTC coach Shawn Poppie was effusive in his praise of the 5-foot-10 junior's defensive effort against Summah Evans. Although the Mercer senior forward entered Saturday averaging 14.5 points this season and had a 35-point performance against Samford on Feb. 3, Evans was held to four points on 1-for-10 shooting.
Poppie said on the postgame radio broadcast that Olafsdottir should be the SoCon defensive player of the year. He also credited point guard Addie Porter and reserve forward Takia Davis, who played a season-high 14 minutes as the team's winning streak hit 10 games.
"She hadn't played much for us, but she's earned my trust slowly," he said.
The Mocs outrebounded Mercer 38-31, led by 11 from Guinn, who's 5-8, and eight from Porter, who's 5-4.
"It's the same thing we keep hearing, 'You guys are small, you guys are small,' but they can't measure our heart," Poppie said. "That's two times in a row we beat the biggest team on the boards, we outrebounded them from the offensive side of the ball as well. That's toughness, that's who we are, who we're trying to be, and super proud of the grit we showed today."
The Mocs don't have a midweek game ahead and will play travel partner East Tennessee State (16-8, 5-4) at 2 p.m. next Saturday in Johnson City. The difference in the first meeting was a pair of Guinn free throws in the final seconds.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org.