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Front Page - Friday, November 17, 2017

Foster faces rare rebuilding campaign at UTC

Senior Keiana Gilbert has already joined the Mocs’ 1,000-point club and is a preseason all-conference selection. - Photographs courtesy of Dale Rutemeyer, Chattanooga Athletics

Admit it, fans of Tennessee-Chattanooga women’s basketball. You. Are. Spoiled.

As much as Tennessee Lady Vols fans of the 1990s and, to a smallish degree, as much as the hated UConn Huskies, years of success built on years of similar expectations have created a fan base that will accept nothing less than success.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The powers that be (or were) at UTC shared those lofty expectations. Why else would you embrace a newly elected College Basketball Hall of Fame inductee over a young wannabe or a hire from within? Further, why would Hall of Fame coach Jim Foster accept the job for anything less than a commitment to winning?

This year, an 0-2 start has already started the frowns. A season-opening road loss – 60-30 to Wisconsin-Green Bay – was followed by a one-point home loss to Central Florida. That game, a 58-57 defeat, saw the UTC women blow a 35-22 halftime lead, in part, by scoring only 11 points in the fourth quarter.

There will be little time to retool or revisit these games, however, as the UTC women are opening the season by playing eight games in 16 days – only two of them at home.

All concerned now realize that winning this year could be much less than a sure thing for the Moc women. For a change, there is no Southern Conference Player of the Year returning with a battle-tested lineup surrounding her. That might be one reason the five-time defending Southern Conference champs are not the preseason pick to win the league.

They’re picked to finish second behind regular-season co-champion Mercer, which lost the conference championship game last year in a thriller. The Bears are picked to win it this year behind reigning conference Player of the Year Kahlia Lawrence. UNCG, picked third, received a first-place vote from the coaches. Mercer got the other seven. UTC received first-place no votes.

But don’t think for a minute that the cupboard is bare. Foster still has the same knack for recruiting that brought him success to St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt and Ohio State. Five freshmen are wearing the UTC uniform for the first time, and all five played in the opener.

This year, the women have a pair of preseason all-SoCon players in senior Keiana Gilbert and sophomore Lakelyn Bouldin. Gilbert was third-team All-SoCon last year and Bouldin made the all-freshman team. They, along with Keiana’s sister, Aryanna Gilbert, are listed as returning starters.

Gilbert is already a 1,000-point career scorer, while Bouldin established a new record for three-point shooting. Aryanna was the only player to log 40 minutes against Green Bay and was both the leading scorer (10 points) and rebounder (nine) in that game.

Keiana played 40 minutes against UCF, while Bouldin played 38 minutes. But Bouldin’s 12 points were offset by eight turnovers, part of a 25-turnover night that killed the home team (UCF made only 12).

“We need to get smarter,” says Foster of the disappointing start. “We’re playing great basketball teams.

“You can’t be scared of the way you schedule and how many you have in a certain amount of days. We have to do what’s in front of us and that’s not going to change. We need to get smarter and tougher.”

But only two other letter winners return this season: Shelbie Davenport and Nakeia Burks. Davenport started in the opener but went scoreless. The fifth starter in the opener was transfer Arianne Whitaker, who started 19 games as a freshman for Winthrop.

Aside from valuable playing time against a championship caliber team, the only notable performance from a freshman came from Brooke Burns. The 5-10 forward from Gadsden, Alabama, averaged nine points per game during UTC’s three-game summer jaunt to Canada. She scored four in only nine minutes against Green Bay.

“We did some good things (in Canada) that will help us down the road,” Foster said earlier. “We have a lot of moving parts. We’re bigger at the center position than we’ve been, more versatile. We’re also deeper in regard to the number of players who can play the point. Many of these girls can play multiple positions.

“They’ve learned quickly. This team is a fast study,” he added. “The hours we were able to spend with them in the off-season were useful. They appear to be coachable.”

But to appreciate where the UTC women are, attention must be given as to where they’ve been. Much of the program’s overwhelming success can be laid out as a series of very impressive records.

Such as:

Regular Season Titles

1984 (first season of SoCon women’s title), 1985 (shared with Marshall), 1986 (shared with Marshall), 1991, 1992 (shared with Furman), 2000, 2001 (shared with GSU), 2002 (shared with UNCG), 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 (shared with WCU), 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 (shared with Mercer), 2017 (shared with Mercer).

If you’re into keeping score, that’s 13 solo regular season titles, eight co-titles. But there’s no sharing when it comes to the SoCon tournament.

SOCON Tournament Titles

1984, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1992, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

That totals 18 trophies, 18 trips to the NCAA. There were, surprisingly, only nine seasons of utter dominance, where the Mocs won the league outright and capped it with the tournament. But in 1988-89, the then-Lady Mocs won the tournament after finishing third and only going 5-5 in the league.

On the other hand, the 1991 team was upset by Appalachian State, which was only 5-5 in the regular season. In 2000, Furman pulled off the tournament upset, as did Western Carolina in 2005 and 2009.

SOCON Player Of The Year

Regina Kirk (1988), Damita Bullock (2000, 2001), Katasha Brown (2004, 2006), Alex Anderson (2007, 2008), Shanara Hollinquest (2009, 2010), Taylor Hall (2014).

Six very special players with a total of 10 awards between them.

SOCON Tournament MVPs

Tina Chairs (1984), Chris McClure (1985), Regina Kirk (1986), Nancy Smith (co-winner 1989), Kim Brown (1992), Miranda Warfield (2002, 2003), Katasha Brown (2004), Tiffani Roberson (2006), Alex Anderson (2007, 2008), Shanara Hollinquest (2010), Ashlen Dewart (2013), Taylor Hall (2014), Jasmine Joyner (2015, 2017), Alicia “Red” Payne (2016).

Talk about your “rising up.” This exclusive club contains 14 members with a total of 17 plaques.

SOCON Coach Of The Year

Sharon Fanning (1984, 1985 shared), Craig Parrott (1988), Wes Moore (2000, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2013), Jim Foster (2015).

UTC ALL-TIME COACHING RECORDS:  Grace Keith (1974-76) 21-23, Sharon Fanning (76-87) 193-131, Craig Parrott (87-98) 164-146, Wes Moore (98-13) 358-113, Jim Foster (13-17) 103-27.

Moore, currently enjoying even more success at North Carolina State, ranks No. 1 all-time among SoCon coaches, while Parrott ranks sixth. Not all of Fanning’s wins came within the Southern Conference. Foster is 14th and climbing. One other note: Karen Kemp, Parrott’s No.1 assistant for a decade, ranks 10th on the list with 135 wins. Foster’s conference record is 56-4 (.933), besting only that of Moore (241-43, .849).

Maybe one day Foster won’t be the only UTC coach honored by the Hall of Fame.  Moore, still going strong at N.C. State, is a combined 644-212 from his stints at Maryville and Francis Marion as well as UTC and N.C. State.

Fanning, now Sharon Fanning-Otis, left UTC for Kentucky for eight seasons, then went on to have a 17-season tenure at Mississippi State before retiring. Her combined record is 608-460.

Foster’s running total, FYI, is 886-335.