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Defensive difference

2011-12 // 2012-13

Scoring offense // 62.1 // // 68.6

Scoring defense // 57.2 // // 53.6

Steals // // // 200 // // 283

Turnover margin // -0.8 // // +4.3

It's not that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team was bad defensively last season. The Lady Mocs allowed 57.2 points per game, which ranked fourth in the Southern Conference.

But compared to how UTC (26-3) has played this season -- holding teams to a conference-low 53.6 points per game and with steals numbers way up -- the 2011-12 numbers don't look so good.

"We're more up in your face, I guess, denying things," junior forward Taylor Hall said Tuesday. "We worked really hard this summer, getting in shape so that we can play like that. It's been a process, but I like it a lot better than last year's defense. It's more intense."

UTC coach Wes Moore recognized after last season, including the 25-point blowout loss to Appalachian State in the semifinals of the SoCon tournament, that the Lady Mocs needed to make more happen on defense. UTC had gotten too "passive," he said.

"I kind of kick myself for not having done that [played aggressively] the last couple of years," said Moore, the SoCon coach of the year. "We've tried to dictate a little bit more where the ball goes and be a little bit more aggressive about denying reversals and things like that. It's definitely made a big difference."

The SoCon-champion Lady Mocs, who begin conference tournament play Saturday in Asheville, N.C., are scoring 6.5 more points and allowing 3.6 fewer points per game. Better defense is partly responsible for the scoring increase.

Steals often lead to wide-open layups, and the Lady Mocs have had plenty of those. In 32 games last season, they had a total of 200 steals. Through 29 games this season, they have had 283.

Hall leads the team with 42 thefts -- she's one of eight Lady Mocs with at least 21. Tatianna Jackson has 32, and it was her play, energy and effort on the defensive end that earned her more playing time.

"We try to use defense to get those easy points," Jackson said. "It's definitely the most fun when the energy is high and we're getting steals."

In 29 games, UTC has held its opponent under 60 points 24 times, including 10 games in which the opponent failed to reach 50.

Senior guard Kayla Christopher, second all-time at UTC and third in SoCon history with 224 career 3-pointers, admits that defense is not her specialty. But she's embraced it this season.

"I don't think defense is the best thing I bring to the table, but I do try to do my best when I'm out there," Christopher said. "We've done a real good job defensively this season, and we have to keep it going in the tournament."

UTC will play at noon Saturday at UNC Asheville's Kimmel Arena, against the winner of today's game between No. 8 seed Georgia Southern (7-22) and No. 9 Western Carolina (7-22).