With her team up 24 points in the final minutes of Friday night's home game against UNC Greensboro, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball coach Katie Burrows took her starters out.
It seemed like an appropriate time to do so. The Mocs had the game locked up, and Burrows knew they were set to face the same Spartans at McKenzie Arena again less than 48 hours later.
Then the visitors did something they hadn't done all evening: UNCG employed a full-court press against the Mocs' reserves. It didn't affect the final result, as UTC still was able to earn a 57-41 victory — the Mocs have won three games in a row for the first time since a five-game streak ended in mid-January — to improve to 13-8 overall and 8-4 in the SoCon.
But in that final 2:21, the Mocs turned the ball over eight times. (To be fair, the lineup was a collection of walk-ons and seldom-used players.) Burrows appeared to be visibly irritated by the late-game pressure, considering the Spartans weren't pressuring when UTC's primary rotation players were in the game.
It's the sort of gesture that may not be forgotten, with the teams meeting at 1 p.m. Sunday and possibly on pace to play in the first round of the SoCon tournament, which begins March 4 in Asheville, North Carolina. As of Friday night, UTC was third and UNCG (6-15, 8-4) was sixth in the eight-team league standings.
UTC's Bria Dial had game highs with 16 points and three blocks, junior Abbey Cornelius had 11 each in rebounds and points for her fourth double-double of the season — she was also one of three Mocs with three assists — and Sigrun Olafsdottir and Eboni Williams each had six rebounds as the Mocs finished with a 48-28 advantage on the glass.
Cece Crudup had 13 points and five steals to lead the Spartans, who never led and shot 18-for-63 from the field, including 0-for-14 from 3-point range.
Dial knocked down four 3-pointers on nine attempts outside the arc, and the 6-foot senior was a plus-21 in her 30-plus minutes in the game, further cementing her importance on the court.
UNCG isn't a good shooting team but does a good job of crashing the boards for offensive rebounds and putbacks. The Spartans got 10 offensive rebounds, but they turned those into just eight points. Conversely, the Mocs had 13 second-chance points on 12 offensive rebounds.
That was the 16-3 run to start the game, as the Mocs carved up a defense that ranked first in the SoCon in points allowed coming into Friday.
"They were very aggressive, but we came out and shut them down from the beginning and didn't even let them get a chance." — Dial on the Spartans
There isn't much that can be gleaned from the win, as the Spartans on Friday were an overmatched opponent. With the teams playing again so quickly, it will be interesting to see what adjustments are made as UTC tries to sweep a season series for the second week in a row but just the second time this year.