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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / UTC's Eboni Williams (3) puts up a free-throw shot during the UTC vs. Lee basketball game Tuesday, October 29, 2019 at UTC in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the last of a three-part series dissecting the 2019-20 UTC women's basketball team. Today we break down the team's inside threats.

Eboni Williams doesn't take personal goals lightly.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga sophomore forward began last season wanting to be the Southern Conference freshman of the year. She did just that, becoming the first UTC player to win the award in 20 years after averaging 8.3 points and five rebounds per game.

This season?

"My goal is to be player of the year," Williams said with her ever-present smile. "I have to get better every day, and that starts with practice and getting in the gym on my own."

The 6-footer from Hoover, Alabama, has been a regular presence around the UTC practice facility since last season ended, preparing for a major role in the Mocs' 2019-20 season that starts tonight at Belmont. After coming off the bench a year ago Williams is set to start at the four, or power forward, position, where her athletic ability should present multiple problems for opposing teams.

"We're playing her more at the four, but she can also play the three," UTC coach Katie Burrows said. "The big thing about her is she can put her head down and go. She just gives us that explosive capability. But she can step out and hit the 3 or pull up in the lane. Her first step is ridiculous. I'm excited to see what she can do this year."

Both coach and player realize the key for Williams is to stay on the floor. The penchant for getting into foul trouble plagued her last year and was a big reason she started only one game. To that end, Williams has been working on slowing down — just enough to stay under control — since midway through last season. It's a fine line, Burrows admits, that may take some time for Williams to adjust to.

"I was nervous she would get into foul trouble too early, so I didn't give her that opportunity to start, but this year she's earned that opportunity," Burrows said. "There's a certain level of trust I have to develop with her.

"I don't want her to play tentative. I need her to be who she is, and she knows that. Slow to quick. We don't want to play fast, because that's out of control. Just slowing down a bit so she can be explosive is the key."

Williams believes the concept is key for the team as well. The Mocs last season, on their way to a 14-17 record, often did not mesh well on the court. Improving that has, Williams said, been one of the main focuses of the summer and fall.

"As a collective we need to slow down and everybody communicate," she said. "We've been working on that the past few weeks. Once everything clicks, we're going to be hard to beat.

"I think every aspect is exciting about this team. Just how we've come together on and off the court is amazing. I think this bunch of girls cares about each other, and that's the big part. We always want to give our all for our teammates."

Williams is part of an inside game that should be a major Mocs strength, though depth could be lacking if 6-3 Central Florida transfer Ruona Uwusiaba is not granted a waiver by the NCAA to play this season.

Williams will start alongside fellow sophomore Abbey Cornelius, a player Burrows believes could have a breakout season.

"She was one of our more improved players," she said of the 6-2 Cornelius, who averaged 2.9 points and 3.5 rebounds a year ago and had several impact games. "She really worked on her shot. Her 15-footer is kind of her money shot, and she's also improved her range to where she can shoot the 3-pointer. The other day in our exhibition she had 10 rebounds and five assists.

"She's very good at seeing what's open and making that next pass, and that will be a key for our offense."

Kallie Searcy, a 6-3 sophomore transfer from Western Kentucky, has been granted her waiver and will be the primary backup to Cornelius in the post. The two play together in a bigger lineup, Burrows said, but having Uwusiaba would make that more viable.

"If we get her, our depth we will be that much better in that spot and we would be able to play Abbey at the four instead of the five," Burrows said. "That's truly what she is, but she's played well at the five for us as well. Hopefully, we'll know something on Ruona by the second week of the season."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6296; follow on Twitter @youngsports22.

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