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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / UTC's Dena Jarrells shoots as UAB's Maddie Walsh, left, and Lamiracle Sims defend during Sunday afternoon's game at McKenzie Arena. It was the opener for UTC, which lost 78-58.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team finally tipped off its 2020-21 schedule Sunday afternoon, and because it was a season opener, offensive woes were to be expected.

And that was exactly what happened against the University of Alabama at Birmingham, as the Mocs shot just 41% from the field at McKenzie Arena.

But the defensive problems that struck UTC in the second half of its 78-58 loss to the Blazers? Those were a bit surprising.

UAB (2-0) was overwhelming after halftime, scoring 55 points in the final 20 minutes on 59% shooting from the field and 70% from 3-point range. Margaret Whitley was hot throughout for the Blazers, scoring 16 points in the first half and 18 in the second for a career-high 34, but it wasn't just her (although she was the catalyst).

"They're always moving," said UTC senior forward Bria Dial, an offensive bright spot with 20 points. "They're always moving, so it's hard to help out on the other side when everyone's involved in everything, and it's hard to box out when you don't have the position already.

"It's hard to play solid defense when they're shooting the lights out."

Photo Gallery

UTC vs. UAB women's basketball on Dec. 6, 2020

The Blazers — who shot just 19% in the first half — made 11 of 17 shots in the third quarter, quickly erasing what had been a 25-23 UTC halftime advantage that was created by solid output from forwards Abbey Cornelius, Kallie Searcy and Ruona Uwusiaba, who combined for 14 points before intermission.

The Mocs appeared to go away from that approach in the second half, and the offense stagnated in the third quarter. Combine that with UAB getting hot, and it led to a second half the Blazers won by 22 points.

Two players made their first starts for UTC — freshman guard Sigrun Olafsdottir and junior college transfer Amaria Pugh — and two others made their first appearances as Mocs — freshman Anna Walker and Univerity of Missouri-Kansas City transfer Brooke Hampel.

Junior forward Eboni Williams was never able to get going, heading to the bench with two fouls in the first 2:23 of the game and sitting out the rest of the first half. She ended up playing just 10 minutes, scoring six points before fouling out.

UAB didn't exactly provide an easing into the season for the Mocs, who were originally set to open late last month but announced Nov. 17 they would pause team activities due to positive tests and contact tracing for COVID-19. The Blazers won 20 games last season, and while they returned just one starter in center Zakyia Weathersby, three other players who started Sunday were in the rotation.

"That's definitely a tough team to start out with," said Katie Burrows, who began her third season leading her alma mater. "We have to have the same fire from the tip. We started off strong and we were giving them a hard time, and some things didn't go our way and we got a little bit of foul trouble in some situations, and I think we let that affect us.

"We had some folks playing timid that haven't been showing timid in practice, and that's where the jitters come in from not knowing what to expect. But my kids didn't quit; they just don't know better yet. They don't quite understand what it takes to compete with a top team, and we're going to get there."

The Mocs are set for a busy couple of weeks, with the opener their first of eight games in 16 days, a stretch that continues with Wednesday's game at Troy and home games against Tennessee Tech and Vanderbilt next Friday and Sunday, respectively.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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