It’s been a while since the Lady Mocs have played the role of underdog, but that’s exactly what they’ll be this weekend in College Station, Texas.
Chattanooga coach Wes Moore is just fine with it, too.
“Hopefully now we can be a little looser,” said Moore, following a couple last-second victories by his team in this month’s Southern Conference Tournament “We get to chase instead of being chased. Hopefully we can make our players realize that the pressure is on the other people now.
“I think our kids played hard all season, they prepared well and hopefully we can shoot the ball better than we did in Asheville and have a great game.”
It’ll certainly be a challenge for the 11th-seeded Lady Mocs (29-3) when they take the court against 24th-ranked Nebraska (23-8), the No. 6 seed in the Norfolk Region. It’s a challenge the Lady Mocs have risen to meet before, though.
UTC is 2-1 against Southeastern Conference opponents this season, including its 80-71 season-opening victory over Tennessee; a team that would go on to win the SEC regular season title and claim a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
So if the Lady Mocs have already taken down a two-seed this season, facing a six seed should be a walk in the park, right?
Not exactly, but their early-season upset of the Lady Vols is still relevant.
“It definitely gave us some momentum throughout the year and some confidence,” UTC junior Taylor Hall said. “We know that we can go in and play with anybody as long as we execute and play to our maximum abilities. It has given us some confidence and I think we can kind of lean back on that win.”
Moore certainly hasn’t forgot about his team’s monumental win, and he’s not going to let his team forget, either.
“I think the Tennessee win, they can still draw from that confidence-wise,” Moore said on Wednesday. “We may try and remind them of that game here in the next couple of days.”
The Huskers have a ferocious front court led by junior Jordan Hooper (18.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg), while 5-9 senior Lindsey Moore (15.1 ppg, 5.7 apg) is among the nation’s top point guards.
Both could present match up problems for the Lady Mocs, but those two are just the tip of the sword. Nebraska has four 6-footers in its starting five, and two more on its bench. The size disadvantage isn’t the only thing worrying Wes Moore, though. The Huskers have plenty of athleticism, too.
“Their post players—their four and five—can handle it, they can step out and shoot the 3,” Wes Moore said. “In transition they’ll sling it. After a make, they’re going to pass down the sidelines and sling it ahead. They all run the floor, including the post.”
Experience in the tournament could also play a role in Saturday’s showdown, and the Huskers hold a huge advantage in that category as well.
“I don’t know what to expect,” UTC junior Ashlen Dewart said. “Coaches keep telling us a little bit about it, but I guess it’s one of those things where you won’t really know until you get there. It’s really exciting. I can’t wait to get down there to see what it’s going to be like. It’s going to be a great experience.”
All but three Huskers were on last year’s NCAA Tournament team, while the squad’s two seniors, Moore and Meghin Williams, are making their third trip in the last four years.
UTC’s Kayla Christopher and Kylie Lambert are the only players on the Lady Mocs’ roster to play in an NCAA Tournament, but it’s been a while for both of them.
Christopher and Lambert got their first taste of the tournament as freshmen in 2009-10—the program’s last appearance in the Big Dance—and now the duo will be closing out their collegiate careers there.
“It’s been nice,” Lambert said. “It’s definitely something I wanted to do, and I’m sure Kayla would agree; going to the NCAAs our freshman year and leaving the same way.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.