Chattanooga’s Kayla Christopher and Kylie Lambert may want to forget the first five minutes of Saturday’s Senior Night game at McKenzie Arena. The final 35 minutes of their lopsided win will serve as a sweet memory for the pair of fourth-year players, though.
The Lady Mocs faced a one-point deficit with 15:28 remaining in the first half, but just moments later, were in firm control.
Chattanooga was held scoreless for more than four minutes early in the opening period, but Christopher ended the drought with a strong baseline drive, and seconds later, the 5-9 guard buried a deep 3-pointer sparking a 21-0 UTC run.
“We came out kind of sluggish in the first few minutes, then we kind of turned it on and had a lot of energy,” Christopher said.
Junior Faith Dupree scored seven straight at one point during the lopsided run, while freshman Alicia Payne added two baskets and a layup in the lopsided stretch for the Lady Mocs.
The Catamounts (7-19, 5-12 Southern Conference) knocked down back-to-back jump shots to pull to within 16 with 8:25 left in the first, but Chattanooga ended the opening period with a 16-2 run, taking a 30-point halftime advantage.
UTC (24-6, 16-1), which defeated Western Carolina by 27 the last time the two teams met, enjoyed an even larger margin of victory this time around, cruising an 81-39 rout over the visiting Catamounts.
“I’m real pleased with the overall effort,” UTC coach Wes Moore said. “We had a lot of people play well and contribute. We kind of got off to a sluggish start, and weren’t able to hit a shot for four or five minutes, then we settled in and made some things happen.”
Christopher was one of four Chattanooga players to finish in double-figures, leading all scorers with 15 points, while junior Ashlen Dewart contributed 10 points and seven rebounds. Junior Meghan Downs and freshman Tatianna Jackson combined for 23 points off the bench, and Dupree added nine points in just 11 minutes of action.
“The energy from the team kind of helps get you going,” Downes said of her bench scoring. “You can definitely tell there’s a different mindset on the bench and a focus on energy; being able to come out every single night, it doesn’t matter the score, and just play to the best of your ability.”
Payne finished with seven points and three rebounds in Saturday's win, the 14th in a row for the Lady Mocs and the team's 25th straight at home. The 5-9 guard has 23 points in the last five games after tallying just 10 through her first 25 appearances.
The Lady Mocs shot 33 of 68 (48.5 percent) from the field, knocked down a season-high eight 3-pointers and collected a season-best 20 assists. UTC outrebounded Western Carolina 50-23, outscored the Catmounts 48-18 in the paint and held a 45-21 advantage in bench scoring.
As good as Chattanooga’s offensive performance was, Western Carolina’s was equally as bad, especially in the opening period. The Lady Catamounts (7-19, 5-12), who shot just 18 of 52 (48.5 percent) from the field, were held to just 11 first-half points for the second straight game, and finished with only five field goals in the first 20 minutes.
UTC welcomes Davidson on Monday, when Chattanooga will have a chance to clinch the conference crown with a win over second-placed Wildcats.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.