Katie Burrows has been saying all season that her University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team could help itself immensely with better shooting.
The Mocs proved their coach's point Thursday night during an 80-76 win over Wofford at McKenzie Arena.
Paced junior guard Bria Dial's 23 points as she went 7-of-7 from the field, UTC (3-14, 2-1 Southern Conference) shot nearly 60%, took the lead early and gave it back only once. The Mocs have won two of their past three games after losing 11 in a row.
"It's been a battle the whole season," Burrows said. "Winning always gives you confidence. To be able to win on our home court, finally, should give us the confidence we need. It's so nice to win at home. We're not used to losing at home, and everybody has been feeling it."
Dial was one of four Mocs who scored in double figures. Eboni Williams had 16 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, while Abbey Cornelius scored 12 of her 15 points in the second half and NaKeia Burks added 10 points, seven boards and a team-high six assists.
The Mocs had to withstand some drama before pulling out the victory, however. Williams hit a pair of free throws with 54 seconds to play to give UTC a seemingly safe lead at 78-69, but the Terriers (8-10, 1-2) scored seven points over the next 45 seconds to pull within two.
Wofford forced a five-second call on the Mocs with nine seconds to play, and the Terriers' Da'Ja Green then drove the length of the court, split the defense and had an open layup, but the ball bounced off the rim. Cornelius rebounded and made two free throws to finally clinch the victory.
Chloe Wanink led Wofford with 20 points — she was 6-for-9 from 3-point range — with Green adding 15 points and nine assists.
Dial's 23 points are her most as a Moc, and her perfect shooting night included going 5-of-5 from 3-point range and 4-of-4 on free throws. She hit three of her bombs in a 2 1/2-minute span of the second quarter as the Mocs briefly took a 15-point lead, and she hit the other two in the final 2:30 — six points that turned out to be huge.
59.6. That was the shooting percent for the Mocs, who came in hitting barely more than 30% for the season. The sizzling shooting included an 8-for-14 showing from 3-point range, something that clearly shocked the Terriers. After all, the Mocs came in hitting just 28% of their tries from behind the arc.
There were several twists and turns in this one, but the biggest was early in the third quarter after Wofford had erased a 15-point deficit to take a 37-36 lead on Green's 3-pointer. UTC sophomore forward Cornelius, who sat much of the first half with two fouls, hit a short jumper, then blocked a shot on the other end to spark a 15-4 run. She also hit another short jumper and a 3-pointer during the run.
WHAT IT MEANS
The win must feel like a breath of fresh air for the Mocs and should, Burrows said, give her team a needed boost of confidence with SoCon contender Furman (12-5, 3-0) in town Saturday for a 2 p.m. game. Breaking an 0-7 skid at home to start the season should help the Mocs play a little more freely against the Paladins before a three-game road swing.
Burrows on UTC's hot shooting: "It hasn't happened. We haven't shot it that well all season. As I said on the radio postgame, 'Hey, 80 points!' That's not something we do very often. When you shoot the ball well, you put so much more pressure on the other team. When you can't put the ball in the hole, you put more pressure on your defense."
Dial on significance of the win: "It's finally turning around for us. The beginning wasn't so good. We didn't really do anything differently, but we' brought more energy to the team. We just played together more, I thought."
Williams on being 2-1 in league play: "We've been working really hard to make things right in SoCon. Came back (after Christmas break) with a different mindset. Everybody's hungry and we are fighting hard."
This was UTC's 50th win over Wofford against just three losses. ... The Mocs' previous high in points this season was 71 twice, and they hadn't topped 60 since Dec. 1 at Eastern Kentucky. ... Williams' 15 rebounds are a career high. ... The Mocs won despite allowing 19 Wofford points off 14 turnovers and a 19-6 edge on fast-break points.