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UTC's Queen Alford is averaging 17 points in her first Southern Conference tournament. The Mocs face Mercer today in the championship game.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball coach Jim Foster continually preaches defensive intensity to his players. And when they don't show that intensity or the effort he prefers, he speaks to them about "pulling up your shorts" and playing.

Offensively, he prefers a system of continuity in which players pass, cut and have the freedom to make plays when necessary.

Entering today's Southern Conference championship game against Mercer, he has a couple of playmakers who have shown they can step up when their numbers are called — or even if they aren't.

The Mocs (23-7) have received 85 percent of their scoring from four players in their first two games at this year's SoCon tournament: guards Alicia Payne and Queen Alford, guard/forward Keiana Gilbert and center Jasmine Joyner, each of them an All-SoCon selection.

Alford is averaging 17 points per game in her first SoCon tournament, and Joyner is second on the team with 13 points while averaging nine rebounds and 5.5 blocks in her two games. Payne — who is 11-0 in her career at the U.S. Cellular Center — is averaging 11.5 points, four assists and two steals. Gilbert is scoring only 11 points but adding nine rebounds per game.

Alford and Gilbert have shown they have the ability to create offense if a play breaks down. It's not a new skill for Payne, but she hasn't shown it much of during her career due to her desire to set up others. She's been aggressive in this tournament, though, which has created space for her to facilitate for others.

"I'd much rather have people that can create," UTC coach Jim Foster said after Friday's semifinal win. "Having said that, they need to be creators but intelligent basketball players."

Team contributions have been key during the Mocs' current 10-game winning streak. Mixed into the run was a 67-45 win over Mercer on Feb. 20, which caused the two teams to finish tied in the league standings.

Foster, who is not a proponent of conference tournaments, said last week that he would have preferred a one-game playoff against Mercer for the title.

His team will essentially have that opportunity today.

"It's going to be a tough one," Alford said, "but the best team is going to win.

"We have to buckle down and play. Either you win or you lose."

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

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