University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball players entered this season knowing the roster was constructed differently than in the recent past. Because of that, they also knew they would have to alter their style of play compared to what worked last season, when they won a fifth straight Southern Conference tournament title.
The Mocs have made those changes — despite some personnel concerns — and have experienced similar success to any other season under coach Jim Foster's guidance.
Why? Because while the personnel has undergone a makeover, the values of the team have remained the same.
No Jasmine Joyner? No problem. The Mocs are tied for the SoCon lead in blocks, even without the talented shot blocker who finished her UTC career in the top 10 in NCAA history in that category. In 2017-18, UTC has 64 swats, one more than Joyner had at the same time last season.
The Mocs are third in the league in field-goal percentage defense and first in scoring defense, and their success on that end of the court has helped an offense that has struggled at times to put points on the board. Last Saturday's 47-32 home win over Western Carolina is one example.
But Foster believes that while the defense has been UTC's calling card this season, it's not necessarily what the final identity of this team will be, saying his players "will figure that out over the course of the year."
"Our identity will be what we do throughout the season and not on a daily basis," he said after Saturday's win. "You win games in a variety of ways in the game of basketball. We weren't making shots today, but the good news was that we were taking them and not being tentative. Our energy in the fourth quarter, defensively, allowed us to get in the open floor."
And it's been in the open floor the Mocs have really been able to separate themselves from opponents, either with fast-break layups or with 3-pointers by players such as sophomore Lakelyn Bouldin, who has struggled of late but still ranks fourth in the SoCon by making 39 percent of her shots from 3-point range. As a team, the Mocs are making 3s at a rate of 37 percent, the best clip in Foster's tenure, which began with the 2013-14 season.
The Mocs have been able to find enough scoring help for Bouldin and senior sisters Aryanna and Keiana Gilbert to aid them along the way, which has been key for a team that has battled injuries and relied on some new players to contribute.
UTC has failed to reach 50 points in SoCon play so far this season, but they've also yet to allow more than 42 in those two games.
"I think from the past two conference games, our identity has been defense," Keiana Gilbert said. "That's what we're known for, and that's what helped us win these past two games."
The Mocs (11-5, 2-0) play at East Tennessee State (9-8, 2-0) on Friday.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.