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Mocs rally to win fifth straight SoCon women's basketball title

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Queen Alford had a flashback Sunday.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior sat on the bench for 24 of the first 29 minutes of the Southern Conference championship game against Mercer, patiently awaiting her turn.

When she stepped on the floor at the U.S. Cellular Center in the final minute of the third quarter, the 5-foot-10 guard knew she needed to make an impact. The Mocs trailed 48-36, had been fairly listless on offense and needed a spark.

Not only did she ignite the Mocs, she gave them the bump they needed on the scoreboard.

Alford finished with 13 points, all in the final 10:03 of the game, which helped UTC outscore the Bears 25-11 to win 61-59.

She made all four of her second-half shots, including two 3-pointers and the field goal on a three-point play that cut the lead to 52-51 with 5:30 to play. Not bad for the two-time All-SoCon selection, who was shooting 25 percent from 3-point range this season.

"She was outstanding," said UTC senior Jasmine Joyner, named the tournament's most outstanding player. "Every time she went in aggressive. I had to look at her and let her know that she was doing her thing tonight. We needed that burst of energy, and Queen came in and did that job."

Alford started the first 25 games of the season but moved into a reserve role in recent weeks. Her playing time isn't what it was last year or even earlier this season, but the time on the bench took her back to the 2014-15 season, when she was sitting on the sideline as a redshirt after transferring from Jacksonville University.

That time taught her patience and to be ready when your number is called.

That's where she went to mentally Sunday.

"Over the years I've grown to know Coach (Jim) Foster, so I know he thinks highly of me," she said. "I don't take anything personal about the decisions he makes, because he knows whenever I step out on the floor that I'm going to give my very best.

"He trusted me in that moment, and I gave my very best."

Foster said Alford had become an energy force off the bench, which has given junior Aryanna Gilbert an opportunity to return to the starting lineup. Alford provides an offensive spark once she enters the game, and the Mocs are back in the NCAA tournament because of her latest outburst.

"If you've ever thought something was impossible to do, now you know it's possible," Alford said. "We were down 13, and we didn't have any type of energy, then all of a sudden everybody got energy and we pulled out the W. If anything, everybody needs to thank God, because it wouldn't be possible without him."