Joseph Dycus, Women’s Basketball Beat Writer–
It all came down to one play. With 12 seconds on the clock, the Samford Bulldogs had clawed their way back from 14 down in the quarter, and now trailed by only three. Electrifying Bulldog point guard Ta’Naisha Hill briskly took the ball into the front-court and shifted the ball in the direction of deadeye markswoman Katie Allen. It looked like the reeling Mocs were primed to surrender a backbreaking three.
Instead, the ball glanced harmlessly off of Allen’s fingertips, as pressure from the entire Chattanooga defense forced an errant pass and a turnover. Forced to foul, Samford sent Lakelyn Bouldin to the line, where she calmly nailed her free throws and iced the game, 61-56.
This contest was an uneven one, filled with mistakes and huge runs by both teams. After the Mocs jumped out to a quick lead, the floodgates opened in the second quarter and the Bulldogs decimated Chattanooga for the first few minutes. Bouyed by relentless ball pressure, turnovers, and back cuts turning into layups, Samford growled ahead of Chattanooga.
“Turnovers, unacceptable. 21 turnovers is unacceptable,” said an exasperated head coach Katie Burrows during the postgame interview, “We will have to clean that up before Saturday.”
Things started to turn around in the last few minutes of the second quarter. Chattanooga began to take care of the ball and tightened up their off-ball defense. The same backdoor layups and easy transition layups Samford feasted on suddenly disappeared, and the Bulldog offense was now starved for points. Chattanooga trailed by only a single point headed into halftime.
The Mocs completely dominated the third quarter behind the continued strong play of Arianne Whitaker, Cincinnati, Ohio. She had 12 points and ‘only’ two blocks, but her looming presence forced countless misses around the rim as well. With senior floor general Molly Melton, Knoxville, out with an injury, freshman point guard Pare Pene, Rotorua, New Zealand, made the most of her first opportunity to play extended minutes. She calmly maneuvered the Mocs offense into their sets, and was a big part of their epic third quarter. Chattanooga outscored 19 to six, and held Samford scoreless for the first eight minutes of the quarter.
“It was fun. Getting in there and not just sitting and watching from the bench,” said Pene about her stellar night, “I learned and picked up on a lot of things. You really have to be focused and always be ready to be engaged in the game.”
That stellar effort did not continue for the entire fourth quarter though, as the Bulldogs went one final run to make the game close. The Mocs would have surrendered the lead had it not been for a few timely buckets by Brooke Burnes, Gadsden, Ala., who had to pick up the scoring slack after energetic freshman Eboni Williams, Hoover, Ala., fouled out. Burnes offense, combined with Samford’s costly turnover, secured Chattanooga’s twelfth win and seventh in conference. The Mocs play their final home game against SoCon juggernaut Mercer on Saturday.