Photo by Logan Stapleton
By Parris Clarke, Assistant Sports Editor-
It’s Southern Conference tournament time for the UTC Lady Mocs, and luckily for them, they are on a roll.
UTC has gotten hot as of late winning four of their last five games, and seven of their last 10 overall. This hot streak earned the Lady Mocs the three-seed in the SoCon tournament, but despite the stellar play, they aren’t resting on their laurels.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” said star forward Eboni Williams. “I feel like we most definitely can produce more because we’re such a good team. We just have to play together and play at our tempo and not let other teams speed us up.”
The Lady Mocs’ will get to test that togetherness in the first round of the tournament as they get ready to face the six-seed Furman Paladins.
The two teams faced off earlier in January for a two-game weekend series, with the teams splitting the series down the middle. UTC won the first game by a convincing score of 68-56, but Furman responded by closing out the next game 52-46.
However, it’s not how you’re play at the beginning of the season, it’s how you’re playing at the end, and like the Lady Mocs, Furman is streaking, too. The Paladins concluded their regular season on a three-game win streak.
That’s the struggle of preparing for a tournament during the COVID-19 era. With teams playing back-to-back, two-game series, opponents might see each other early on and then not again for a month.
It makes answering the question of who a team is that much more difficult. Do you use your prior experience from a game that was six weeks ago to prepare, or do you throw it all out and move forward like you’re facing a completely new team? These are the questions facing the Lady Mocs right now.
“Some of that (old) stuff we use, but we always prepare for them to come out with new energy, because all of us are going to be super excited to be there to play, so we have to be ready for anything,” said Williams.
No matter what the plan of attack is for the Mocs, stopping senior wing Tierra Hodges will be on the top of their list.
Hodges ranks second in the SoCon in scoring at 16.5 points per game, and first in rebounding at 10.1 rebounds per game. She hung 16 points and 23 points, respectively, on the Lady Mocs the last time the two teams faced off.
“We just want to get a hand up in her face as soon as she catches the ball. We don’t want her to get any easy shots,” said Williams. “I feel like a couple of shots that she got (previously) were easier for her because we weren’t as close in her face and weren’t being as aggressive on defense.”
While UTC is preparing for Furman, and a deep tournament run, their main concern is with themselves.
Even though the Lady Mocs are streaking now, they have struggled with inconsistency throughout the season. As previously mentioned, they split their two games with Furman, split with Samford, split with Mercer, split with Wofford, and split with UNC Greensboro. Notice the trend? Their wins, many times, come in dominating fashion. Their losses are much more lackluster.
The regular season is over. All of that previous inconsistency goes out the window. But for UTC to reach their ultimate goal, it’s imperative they understand that they belong among the best.
“Honestly, we’re not too worried about it because we know how good we are. I know if we come out and play exactly how we played our second time against Samford then we will be able to beat everyone in this conference,” said Williams.
Are the Lady Mocs good enough to win the tournament? Absolutely. However, it’s the belief that they are a good team that will carry them far.
On practice Tuesday, the team was brimming with confidence. Fortunately for them, they’ll get to show off this newfound confidence on Thursday as the nightcap to day-one of the 2021 SoCon tournament.
Tip-off is at 7:15 p.m. from the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, North Carolina.