Coach John Shulman has all hands on deck.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball team has emerged from a tumultuous time in their 2010-11 season finally with all 11 eligible players free of suspension, injury and influenza.
After four straight losses, then few days of practice, the Mocs are approaching the final two weeks of the scheduled season -- one week to play the last regular-season games and one week for the Southern Conference tournament season -- healthy and confident that a terrible two-week stretch is history.
"We have our team back," Shulman said. "It's a good time, a nice time, to be refreshed and have our team together for the stretch run."
The Mocs (14-14, 10-5 SoCon) return to Southern Conference competition against Furman (20-7, 12-4) tonight at 7 in McKenzie Arena with UTC promoting a "Black-Out" for the game.
"I think we're in a different mentality than we were over the last two weeks," Shulman said. "I think we're fresh. We've had a few good days of practice, put a few new wrinkles in and I like our mentality."
Sophomore post player Sam Watson returned to practice this weekend after missing a month due to a right shoulder injury. The four players who went down with influenza before the Western Carolina and Appalachian State games are all back to full strength and health. And Chris Early has served his SoCon and in-house penalties following a flagrant foul call in a loss at Davidson.
UTC last played at Georgia Tech last Wednesday -- 62-53 loss in a game it could have won -- that gave them four days between games which equates to an eternity this time of year.
"It helped us take a deep breath," point guard Keegan Bell said. "For a while, things moved so fast and they went so bad, to have this time off to regroup helps. Now we get Sam back. Sam's a guy that does a bunch of little things that people don't recognize but help our team."
The Mocs practiced Thursday, took a day off, practiced twice on Saturday, and again on Sunday in preparation for a Furman and Wofford which beat UTC by a combined 58 points in first two games with Watson on the sideline.
He'll be sporting his No. 44 jersey tonight and add a physical presence that the Mocs have missed while going 3-6 in his absence.
"It felt good to run up and down the floor," Watson said. "I'd been doing conditioning, but you can't simulate a game or practice.
"Everybody is healthy now, I hope I can help the team out, so hopefully we can get some momentum going."
That may not be easy considering the Mocs are facing teams battling with College of Charleston for one of two byes from the South Division in Furman tonight and Wofford on Wednesday.
Furman has had only one winning SoCon season in the last 15 years which was the 2004-05 year when they went 9-7.
This isn't a "Pansy Paladin" team.
It's one of the SoCon's best having claimed one of three SoCon-over-SEC wins when Furman smacked South Carolina 91-75 earlier this year. Charleston thumped Tennessee and Samford beat Auburn for the other two SoCon wins.
The Paladins head into tonight's game coming off a 70-63 win at Samford which makes them 8-2 in their last 10 games.
"I'd rather be playing University High's middle-school team," Shulman joked about the school where he first coached. "But the schedule says we play Furman. They killed us last time.
"It will be quite a week for us."
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...
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