A slow start against a very good team was too much for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team, which lost 71-54 to South Dakota State on Tuesday night at McKenzie Arena.
That stretched the Mocs' losing streak stretch to four games
UTC (4-6) fell behind 10-0 against the Jackrabbits (5-3), who are ranked No. 7 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid Major Top 25, and were unable to completely come back from that opening salvo.
"We started with four turnovers is what we started with very early, and we can't do that and be successful," UTC coach Katie Burrows said. "I keep telling them we can't keep digging holes that we can't get out of, and it was a 10-0 lead before we scored. And, boy, it's frustrating standing on the sideline and you just feel helpless."
UTC trailed 20-11 after one quarter and was down by as many as 16 points as SDSU shot 59.3 percent from the floor in the first half while the Mocs were 8-of-25 from the floor.
"We know that all of them can shoot, and we weren't rotating like we were supposed to on defense," said UTC junior guard Lakelyn Bouldin, who led all scorers with 18 points. "We tried to make an adjustment (at halftime) because we knew we had to cut 3s and rotate better."
The Mocs' adjustments seem to work after the break, and they went on a 9-0 run and cut the deficit to six points twice before the Jackrabbits hit shots to pull away.
"There's a lot of things we have to get better at," Burrows said. "Our 3-point defense is not so hot, obviously. It seemed like every time they hit one it was right when we were starting to chip away, and it was just a dagger to the heart."
UTC got senior guard Molly Melton back from injury after missing the last three games, but redshirt senior Shelbie Davenport was suspended for the game for violating team rules. Burrows said the absence of a veteran player could have played a part in the loss, but Davenport is expected to be back for UTC's next game.
The Mocs began to cut down on turnovers in the second half, committing only four while forcing South Dakota State to make some bad decisions, but Burrows still felt her team missed key chances to make the game even closer.
"We felt like this was a team that we could attack," she said, "although I thought there were more opportunities that we could have had if we had actually looked for our shot initially. I think a lot of the time our girls get so into the attack that they don't look for their shot."
The Mocs shot 33.3 percent from the floor for the game, but their attacking offense allowed them to get to the line 14 times and hit 11 free throws.
Bouldin was joined in double figures for UTC by freshman Mya Long with 12 points.
"We were just trying to attack the basket and keep scoring," Long said. "But we have to communicate better and get stops."
"I think there are some bright spots," Burrows said. "I love that Mya is looking to score more, and I love that we're looking to her. Because we have someone take the pressure of Lakelyn a little bit so she can breathe."
South Dakota State was led by Macy Miller with 17 points, and Paiton Burckhard scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the win.
The Mocs now get a much-needed break after a tough stretch of games. Burrows will give the players a couple of days off to focus on exams and individual workouts before returning to practice to prepare for a long road trip to Greeley, Colorado, to take on Northern Colorado on Dec. 13.
"We'll take care of our bodies and make sure we eat the right things and get shots up," Long said. "And we will be able to get some individual workouts on Friday."
In a game that looked like it could be a blowout after the first few minutes of the game, Burrows found a positive in her team's fight to keep the game from getting away against a tough opponent.
"No matter what the score is, my kids don't quit — I can give them that much," she said. "They may not do the smartest things all the time — they make some mistakes — but they're never going to not give me effort. And that's a bright side: There's hope for us."
Contact Jim Tanner at JFTanner@gmail.com. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.