During the 2019-20 season, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team played one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country. The opponents included nine teams ranked in the top 100 of the Rating Percentage Index, which determines the difficulty of a team's schedule.
The Mocs struggled to a 1-13 start that included an 11-game losing streak heading into Southern Conference play. They appeared to figure something out at that point in Katie Burrows' second season as coach, going 10-4 against league foes to share the SoCon regular-season title with Samford and UNC Greensboro.
Going into the 2020-21 season, nothing has changed in terms of difficulty regarding the Mocs' schedule — that philosophy of playing tough competition to get ready for league and postseason play was already in place under former coach Jim Foster, whose staff included Burrows — but there's a hope and belief something could change in the results.
The Mocs return three of their top five scorers from last season's 11-18 team, and they have added former Bradley Central standout Anna Walker, University of Missouri-Kansas City transfer Brooke Hampel, junior-college transfer Amaria Pugh and Sigrun Olafsdottir from Iceland.
"They know that each year we are going to battle tough competition, and this year is no different," Burrows said in a UTC release. "We are hungry and ready to compete for another championship."
Here's a breakdown of the schedule by opponents (not included are TBD matchups for the GSU Classic hosted by Georgia State on Dec. 21-22 in Atlanta and Saint Joseph University's event Dec. 28-29 in Philadelphia):
BELMONT (Home, Nov. 10)
Last season the Bruins featured senior Maddie Wright, the former Boyd Buchanan standout whose father is UTC head football coach Rusty Wright. A pair of starters return from the team that went 22-9, including junior forward Conley Chinn, who scored 12 points in Belmont's 63-50 win over the Mocs in Nashville.
OHIO (Away, Nov. 13)
The Bobcats' 18 wins last season included a 70-58 victory over the Mocs in Chattanooga. Bria Dial did have 12 points for UTC, but All-Mid-American Conference selections Cece Hooks and Erica Johnson combined for 39 for Ohio.
MURRAY STATE (Away, Nov. 19)
The Mocs and the Racers — who went 14-16 in 2019-20 — have played only four times, with UTC winning three of the meetings. The last series matchup was a 68-58 UTC win in 2007, but the Racers are 1-0 at home, having beaten UTC 77-67 on Dec. 1, 1987.
CINCINNATI (Home, Nov. 22)
The Mocs had no answer for forward Iimar'i Thomas in last season's 72-53 win by the Bearcats. She's back, but Cincinnati lost the other four starters and has replenished the roster with transfers and junior-college prospects.
TENNESSEE TECH (Home, Nov. 25)
The Golden Eagles and the Mocs haven't played since 2005, with Tennessee Tech holding an 18-5 advantage in the series. Tennessee Tech went 17-13 last season, when one of its leading players was former GPS and Hamilton Heights standout Akia Harris, who was a senior.
HAMPTON (Away, Nov. 28)
One of UTC's worst losses last year came at the hands of Hampton, which won 84-55 in Chattanooga on Nov. 9. Abbey Cornelius had 22 points and seven rebounds for the Mocs, but the Pirates shot 50% from the field and made eight 3-pointers while leading by as many as 32 points.
UAB (Home, Dec. 6)
UTC and the University of Alabama at Birmingham haven't played since the 2018 Women's National Invitation Tournament, a matchup that was Foster's last game at the helm of the Mocs as the Blazers won 60-50. UAB won 20 games last season but lost its four leading scorers from that lineup. Forward Zakhia Weathersby is the leading returning scorer, having averaged 7.5 points and 3.9 rebounds while leading the team in blocks per game.
TROY (Away, Dec. 9)
The Trojans were 25-4 when the remainder of the 2019-20 season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They return only two players — Taysia Moore and Jasmine Robinson — who started last season's 90-51 win at UTC.
PURDUE (Away, Dec. 13)
The Mocs were never in last year's 66-34 loss to the Boilermakers, who won 18 games in all last season. Three starters are back for Purdue, led by junior guard Karissa McLaughin, who averaged 13.1 points to rank second on the team.
EASTERN KENTUCKY (Home, Dec. 18)
Of all the Mocs' losses last season, perhaps none in the early going were more surprising than the 71-65 defeat at the hands of the Colonels on Dec. 1 in Richmond. UTC led by seven with 7:58 to play and held a 59-58 advantage with 2:43 remaining, but the Colonels outscored their visitors 17-6 the rest of the way. Bria Bass, who scored 17 points in the game, is now a senior for Eastern Kentucky.
ETSU (Home, Jan. 9; Away, Feb. 6)
UTC will open its league schedule with three straight home games, and East Tenenessee State University will be the first SoCon visitor to McKenzie Arena in 2021. The Mocs swept the series with their in-state rival last season, including a three-overtime affair in Johnson City. The Buccaneers have flipped their roster, with seven new faces on it entering this season, including five true freshmen.
FURMAN (Away, Jan. 23; Home, Feb. 18)
The Mocs' sweep of one of the preseason favorites to win the conference was instrumental in the team's regular-season title split. Furman adds six newcomers to this season's roster, but the Paladins lost a pair of 1,000-point scorers in Le'Jzae Davidson and Taylor Petty. They do return forward Celena Taborn, who is also over 1,000 points in her Furman career.
MERCER (Home, Jan. 16; Away, Feb. 11)
UTC split with Mercer during the regular season before falling to the Bears in the quarterfinals of the SoCon tournament. Five new players are in for the Bears, including three transfers.
SAMFORD (Home, Jan. 14; Away, Feb. 13)
The teams split during the regular season, with each winning at home. Center Natalie Armstrong averaged a team-high 14.5 points last season for the tournament champions, and included in the Bulldogs' recruiting class is former Rhea County High School standout guard Mallory Hampton.
UNCG (Home, Jan. 30; Away, Feb. 25)
Despite splitting with the Mocs last season, the Spartans finished atop the league standings with UTC and Samford before falling to the Bulldogs in the SoCon championship game. Gone are the Spartans' top two offensive threats, with Aja Boyd the leading returning scorer at 11.2 points per game.
WESTERN CAROLINA (Home, Jan. 28; Away, Feb. 27)
Current Tennessee Lady Volunteers coach Kellie Harper was in charge of the Catamounts the last time the Mocs dropped a game against Western Carolina, which made the 64-58 win in Chattanooga that much more surprising. (Harper was a UTC assistant before taking over at Western carolina in 2004.) The Catamounts went 5-25 in Kiley Hill's first season at the helm, but they have eight new players.
WOFFORD (Away, Jan. 21; Home, Feb. 20)
The Mocs swept last season's series with the Terriers, who lost three of their top four scorers from a 15-win team. Back for Wofford is 2020 SoCon freshman of the year Lilly Hatton, who averaged 7.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and had a team-high 42 blocks. Terriers forward Jamari McDavid, who averaged 9.4 points per contest, is now a senior.