The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's women's basketball team led for more than 27 minutes of Monday's game against Central Florida. But the Mocs didn't have the lead when it counts.
The Knights made three pivotal steals in the final minute, the second providing the lead and the last to preserve it, and Central Florida came away with a 58-57 victory at Maclellan Gymnasium in a game being billed as "Back to the Mac" — the former home of Mocs' basketball.
UTC coach Jim Foster pointed out a variety of things his team could've done better down the stretch in particular to help his young guards. He finished his thought by saying, "It's the little things your team needs to learn for us to be better," as his team dropped to 0-2 after its home opener.
The Mocs took a 17-15 lead when Shelbie Davenport scored on a scoop shot in the lane for the first points of the second quarter, and from there they remained in the lead until Nyala Shuler's steal led to her layup with 4:18 to play and a 53-52 lead for Central Florida (1-1).
The Mocs' Jacobi Lynn made a 3-point shot from the left wing at the 3:18 mark before Korneila Wright tied it with a jump shot from just inside the arc on the Knights' next possession. Keiana Gilbert then penetrated from the right wing and scored in the lane with 2:25 to play for two of her 11 points and what would be the Mocs' last lead and their last points.
Zakiya Saunders made the first of Central Florida's key steals shortly after the clock dipped below the one-minute mark, and it led to Aliyah Gregory going to the free-throw line with 47.5 seconds remaining. She made the first but missed the second, leaving UTC in the lead. But Gregory then made a takeaway at midcourt and took it in for a layup with 34 seconds to play.
"We just had too many turnovers," said Aryanna Gilbert, who along with Lakelyn Bouldin led UTC with 12 points. "They got some steals. We've just got to have people step up and go get the ball for us at times like that."
The Mocs again were unable to get up a shot on their next trip, which resulted in a steal by Wright, who passed the ball upcourt. And although UTC was able to prevent Gregory from making a layup by slapping the ball out of her hands and over the endline, the Knights were able to inbound and run out the final three seconds.
"We've got to want the ball in certain people's hands, and they've got to be aggressive when they get there," Foster said. "We know who they are. They know who they are."
Both teams zoned the other defensively throughout. But be it open-court or half-court situations, the Mocs turned the ball over 25 times to UCF's 12.
"Their length is obviously impressive, but we shot 52 percent from the field," Foster said. "It's a team you need to use a lot of ball fakes against. You can't look down and make passes all the time where you're looking. They're sitting there waiting to jump that pass.
"There's more than one way to play this game. You can't play it at breakneck speed. You have to play it quick, but not in a hurry."
"It's very disheartening, but we'll learn from it," Aryanna Gilbert said.
Said Foster: "We'll see next time out what we learned."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter @KelleySmiddie.