ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Chattanooga women’s basketball team had experienced days like Monday’s Southern Conference Tournament championship game. The kind of day when the shots just aren’t falling.
The top-seeded Lady Mocs had nearly twice as many looks at the basket as their opponent, but finished the contest with just three more makes than No. 2 Davidson.
It even took them three attempts to finally get one to fall on their final possession.
But when senior Kayla Christopher’s pivotal putback banked in with less than 10 seconds left, the team’s poor field goal percentage was an afterthought.
“When we came out of the timeout, the last thing I said was ‘crash, crash, crash; crash the boards,’” said Christopher, who finished with just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting. “We’re a great offensive-rebounding team and it only makes sense that we won like that. Taylor (Hall) and Ashlen (Dewart) did a great job keeping the first and second shots alive, and I was able to sneak in there on the weak side and get that third shot."
The 5-9 senior’s basket, which came after consecutive misses in close by Dewart, put the Lady Mocs ahead by one with 8.2 seconds to play—the team’s first lead since the 10:48 mark in the first half—and Wildcats junior Laura Murray came up empty on her potential game-winning shot for her team in the game’s closing seconds.
“It’s a perfect way to end the season; to have Kayla hit the game-winning shot,” said Dewart, who was voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. “I can’t even tell you how important she’s been to this team, and the last play was just the cherry on top.”
The Lady Mocs captured their 14th SoCon Tournament title with Monday's 64-63 come-from-behind victory, and will advance to the NCAA Tournament for the 11th time in school history.
“I’m just so excited,” Christopher said. “I was thinking last night before I went to bed, I think I’ve been dreaming about this day for like a month now; just imagining what it would be like. No joke. Just for it to actually come true...it’s really exciting.”
Chattanooga coach Wes Moore shared his senior guard’s sentiment.
“For them to be rewarded for what they’ve done the last few months is awesome,” said Moore. “Obviously for the seniors; it's their last go around, but for all of them. I’m excited, and I think we have a team that can compete in the NCAA Tournament, so I’m excited about the opportunity now that we got through this.”
UTC will learn its first-round opponent in the upcoming NCAA Tournament on Monday, March 18, when the ESPN Selection Show airs at 7 p.m.
Junior Taylor Hall once again finished as the leading scorer for the Lady Mocs (29-3), who faced an 11-point deficit early in the second half, tallying a team-high 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting.
The 6-1 forward battled first-half foul trouble, picking up two in the game’s opening minutes, and she went into the break with just two points on 1-of-3 shooting in five minutes of action. For the second-straight game, though, Hall’s second-half performance helped lift Chattanooga to a narrow victory.
“I was really frustrated in the first half; being in foul trouble and having to sit on the bench through the majority of it and just watch,” she said. “Whenever I got back in I was going to try and make something happen, and I was able to do that.”
Dewart recorded her eighth double-double of the season, finishing with 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, junior Faith Dupree added nine points and senior Kylie Lambert contributed five, including a crucial 3-pointer in the closing moments of the first period, trimming Chattanooga’s halftime deficit to single digits, 32-25.
“It was the same thing I’ve seen all year,” Moore said. “They don’t quit. I know we felt some pressure. You can’t help it. But when you look at the offensive rebounds and the things we did on a day where it was tough to score, that’s all about heart, work ethic and just being relentless. They kept coming at them and were finally rewarded with about eight seconds left.”
The Lady Mocs outrebounded the Wildcats 36-32, but held a 21-6 advantage on the offensive glass while outscoring Davidson 23-6 in second-chance points.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.