Having scored 74 points in a home win over Western Carolina two days earlier, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga knew the Catamounts would make some adjustments before their rematch in Southern Conference women's basketball Saturday at McKenzie Arena.
And the visitors did just that, making scoring much more difficult for the Mocs, who still managed to win 72-58, sealing their first sweep of a conference series this season and moving them back into a tie for third place in the league standings with Wofford, a 58-55 loser to Samford on Saturday.
UTC coach Katie Burrows wasn't pleased with her team's field-goal shooting — the Mocs were 19-of-45 (42.2%) in the second game compared to 26-of-50 (52%) in the first — but the drop in success came as the Catamounts played far more physical, with the visitors called for 26 personal fouls and a technical, which led to 38 UTC free throws. So while the Mocs (12-8, 7-4) never really got into a rhythm on offense, they didn't have a problem getting into one at the foul line as they connected on 30 of those 38 tries.
After UTC's Eboni Williams scored on a couple of early drives to the basket, the physicality really set in, and as the game wore on, the Mocs found themselves at the line far more often, shooting five free throws in the first quarter, eight in the second, 12 in the third and 13 in the fourth.
"We kept attacking and doing all those things, and I felt like they tried and we were just a bit more disciplined," Burrows said. "We couldn't hit from the field, we were struggling, so we needed those foul shots and that's what ultimately won the game for us."
Williams and Bria Dial did most of the early scoring, accounting for 24 of the Mocs' 31 first-half points, but other players were able to get involved in the second half, including Dena Jarrells, who finished with 13 points and three assists, and Abbey Cornelius (12 points, six rebounds). Williams scored 22 points (11 in each half) while adding nine rebounds and three steals, and Dial had 17 points and blocked four shots. That gave the senior 80 career blocks as she moved past former SoCon player of the year Taylor Hall and into seventh place in UTC history.
Western Carolina (5-14, 2-7) was led by Kyla Allison's 23 points, with Lauren LaPlant chipping in 13.
UTC hosts UNC Greensboro (6-14, 4-7) at 7 p.m. Friday and again two days later before closing the regular season Feb. 25 at East Tennessee State University (3-11, 1-6), the team the Mocs beat to open league play.
Williams was all energy and effort. She was the only player who was able to make shots with any sort of consistency, netting eight of the Mocs' 19 field goals, and she continued her usual production in other facets.
The Mocs' 30 made free throws — tied for fourth in program history — marked only the third time this century they had hit that number. The last time before Saturday? They also had 30 in a 71-64 win over Appalachian State on Feb. 16, 2004.
The Catamounts cut the lead to five early in the fourth quarter before UTC went on a 14-4 run, sparked by seven points from Jarrells.
"We just had to keep our heads and keep on staying calm with a common goal in mind, and remember to play our game, not theirs." — Williams on dealing with the Catamounts' physicality
"I feel like it makes us hard to guard because you can do a triangle on me and (Williams), but we have other people that can step up, so we're not even worried about it. It's been like that for the past couple of games. You want to just guard two people, it's not going to happen because we have other people that can score, and I feel like that's what makes us so hard to guard and just makes us good all around." — Dial
The sweep was important, but it was also important for the Mocs to figure out a different way to win as they were forced to slug it out against an opponent. With their remaining games against teams in the bottom half of the standings, the Mocs have a decent shot of taking a five-game winning streak into the SoCon tournament.