University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball coach Katie Burrows was all smiles at 4:14 Saturday afternoon.
Her Mocs having just won their fourth game in a row and sixth in seven tries with a 64-58 victory over visiting Samford, Burrows said, "It's fun now. It wasn't fun going through it. The last four minutes were the longest of my life."
With her team a horrid 1-13 at the close of a nonconference schedule that some rated the toughest in the land, Burrows' second year on the job once had all the makings of the longest, most painful season in the program's mostly storied history.
Or as she said afterward of her gritty team, "They could have tucked tail and quit."
But somehow, some way, the Mocs are now not only 10-17 overall, but a robust 9-4 in Southern Conference play.
In fact, if UTC can win its regular-season finale next Saturday against visiting East Tennessee State and UNC Greensboro drops one of its two remaining games, the Mocs can tie for the SoCon regular-season crown. Let UNCG lose both and UTC win and the Mocs might even win the regular-season title.
"What we want is to win the conference tournament and go to the NCAA tournament," said sophmore post player Abbey Cornelius, whose four straight free throws late, 11 total points and seven rebounds were a huge reason for the victory.
Think about that for a minute, though. A 1-13 start could lead to an NCAA bid? How is such a thing even possible, much less plausible?
"We were OK when we were 1-8," Nick Burrows recalled of what home life with his wife was like early in the season. "When it got to 1-11, Katie was having a loud talk with God."
Katie Burrows did not deny this. Especially since that 11th loss was a 90-51 blowout embarrassment to visiting Troy on Dec. 15.
"It wasn't like I was asking God for a win. I wouldn't do that," Coach Burrows said. "But I did sort of ask, 'What are you trying to teach me?"'
She soon added, "He didn't speak to me, but I heard him."
She also spoke to Jim Foster, the Hall of Fame coach she worked for and replaced when he retired in the spring of 2018. And Wes Moore, the current North Carolina State coach who coached Katie at UTC. And, perhaps most importantly, her father Joe Galloway, who's one of the best high school coaches in the history of Chattanooga prep basketball.
"Dad told me to keep things positive and stay patient," she said. "I'm not sure I could have stayed positive a few years ago."
Senior guard Lakelyn Bouldin — who led the Mocs with 18 points, including a crucial three-point play with 1:51 to play to put UTC up 58-53 — backed up her coach's assertion of staying positive against all logic.
"She was always encouraging," Bouldin said. "She gets on us hard, but she's also our biggest cheerleader."
To show what kind of cheerleader Burrows has become this season, consider this quote when she was asked how satisfying her team's fourth straight conference win was.
"It's satisfying," Burrows said. "But not for me. It's satisfying because they're seeing the benefits of their hard work."
A year from now, UTC women's fans should see the benefits of more prudent scheduling. It's one thing for a true mid-major such as the Mocs to schedule a Power Five conference foe or two. It's another to schedule, as UTC did this season, Purdue, Cincinnati, perennial Final Four contender Louisville and Atlantic Coast Conference power N.C. State.
"We're always going to play a competitive schedule," Burrows said. "I don't want to back down from that standard. But we want to be smart. We're not going to play three or four ACC and SEC teams next year."
Yet even the brutality of that early schedule paid benefits, according to the UTC coach.
"We're so much tougher mentally than we were early in the season," Burrows said.
So against all odds they've somehow crawled out of a 1-13 grave to have a realistic chance to tie for the SoCon regular-season crown. With an extreme amount of luck they might even win it outright.
And having seen all five of her starters Saturday score in double figures — something that hadn't happened for the UTC women since 2015 — Burrows said, "If we can continue to do that, we'll be tough to beat."
If they can continue to play as they have throughout February in going 6-1 so far, Burrows should be impossible to beat for Southern Conference coach of the year.