On Thursday evening, the UNCG Women’s Basketball team defeated the SoCon leading Chattanooga Mocs 75-72 in an overtime thriller in Fleming Gymnasium.
Five players scored in double figures for the Spartans, led by Te’ja Twitty with 16 points. Freshmen Nadine Soliman and Alexis Pitchford added another 15 and 13 points, respectively, while seniors Bailey Williams and Shanese Harris scored 12 and 10 points each.
“We have a lot of tools in our toolkit,” Head coach Trina Patterson explained, “our team has faith in one another, they know what each person’s strengths is, and they were giving each other the ball in places where they’d be successful.”
The Mocs wasted no time getting the game started and jumped out to an early 9-0 run. In their previous matchup in January, UNCG overcame a 19 point fourth quarter deficit against Chatt, and the Spartan comeback came up just three points short. Coach Patterson believed that the memory of January’s matchup fueled the Mocs’ early efforts:
“I think that when they came in here today, they wanted to try show us that it was a fluke.” Coach Patterson said.
Alexus Willey was finally able to ignite the Spartan offense in the first quarter, and scorched the Mocs for 9 points on 3 of 3 shooting from beyond the arc in the period. The Blue and Gold were able to use her hot start to take a 15-12 lead in the first 10 minutes of play.
The Mocs responded by outscoring UNCG 20 to 15 in the second quarter to take a 33-30 lead heading into halftime. The Spartans were held to just three rebounds in the quarter, as Chatt shot over 70 percent from the field in the period.
“We needed to neutralize what they were doing,” Coach Patterson expressed, “We talked about our three point defense more, I thought that could take away their drives and layups.”
Chattanooga plays a zone defense “99 percent of the time” and the Spartans were able to exploit the Mocs’ defense in the third quarter. The Spartans and their four three pointers in the quarter shifted Chattanooga out of their zone defense, and UNCG started to do work on the interior. The Blue and Gold shot seven free throws in the period, and Te’ja Twitty grabbed five offensive rebounds in the period.
“She was going after every ball that hit the rim,” Coach Patterson remarked.
Despite this, the Mocs held a 54-50 advantage heading into the fourth quarter, and managed to stretch their lead to as much as nine in the period. Shanese Harris was able to do her part in the quarter by scoring all 12 of her points which helped to spark a 15-2 run ending in a 65-61 lead for the Spartans. Free throws and a late triple from Chatt gave them a 67-65 lead with under a minute remaining.
Then, with 24 seconds remaining in what was perhaps the play of the night, Alexus Willey miraculously saved a Spartan missed shot by bouncing the ball off a Moc defender, which gave UNCG another try at tying up the score, instead of what would have been Chatt’s possession. On the following play, Shanese Harris drew a foul and was able to knock down the free throws that sent the game into overtime.
“This team has so much heart,” Coach Patterson highlighted, “They play with a lot of heart, they never give up, and I think that would be our identity. A team that never gives up.”
The Spartans were then able to own the overtime period, where Te’ja Twitty rounded out a double-double with her 10th rebound, and Alexis Pitchford scored six of UNCG’s eight points in the period en route to the first home win against Chatt since the 2001-02 season.
The three point line was friendly to UNCG, as they knocked down 10 three pointers in 16 attempts.
“Today it was just a very good shooting game,” Coach Patterson admitted, “We hit 11 threes at their place, and I told them ‘Make more this time’. Our shooting was phenomenal and against a zone you have to knock down shots.”
Saturday’s win versus ETSU was the last home game for the Spartans, then the Blue and Gold (16-12, 7-6) have one last game against Western Carolina (7-21, 2-11) before the start of the SoCon Tournament.
“You want to be playing really well in late February and March, and you have to continue to grow. Each player is committed to doing something to help the team get better,” Coach Patterson said.
Coach Patterson believes the team is playing its best basketball all year, and securing a win against the top team in the conference certainly helps her argument. Expect the UNCG to make some noise come tournament time.