Flipping the calendar to January resulted in a sparkling start to the Southern Conference basketball season for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
The Mocs returned from Christmas break, won the Dr Pepper Classic and then started the SoCon season with eight straight wins.
Then the month ended with a 94-51 loss at Davidson on Jan. 30. The second month of the 2014 calendar year has not produced the same results in the month of Valentine’s Day.
UTC is 2-4 since the calendar flipped to February, including two straight losses and four losses in their last five games.
“In January, we could really surprise teams and sneak up on them because they weren’t ready for our system,” junior point guard Ronrico White said. “We’re not sneaking up on any more teams because we established ourselves early as contenders.”
The Mocs (16-13, 10-4 SoCon) will play a SoCon season rematch tonight at Western Carolina (17-12, 10-4) with an important SoCon tournament seed on the line.
“Teams are making one or two more plays than we are, but we’re still playing the same way,” coach Will Wade said over his phone as the team bus approached the Ocoee River Gorge. “We’re playing hard. We’re laying it out there. We just hadn’t got a break or two that we got early in the season.
“I’ve gone back and watched some of those early games, and we just have to play a little bit better.”
Both UTC and WCU have earned a first-round bye for the tournament, which begins March 7 in Asheville, N.C. No SoCon team has won four games in four days, so the importance of the first-round bye is obvious.
With an 11-team tournament, a top-three seed adds to the value of earning a bye because the top three will face a team on Saturday that played on Friday. The Nos. 4 and 5 seeds will have about a week to prepare for each other.
Then the winner of the No. 4-5 game would likely face top-seeded Davidson in the semifinals.
“We haven’t talked about that with the team,” Wade said. “Our guys knew where they were in the standings and that had them playing on eggshells. They know this is an important game.”
Yet Wade’s mantra throughout the SoCon season has been about 16 one-game seasons.
Because of UTC’s success in January, the game tonight does have added an importance that was unexpected in the preaseason.
Sophomore Casey Jones said the players are aware. But they’re trying to stick to the 16-game one-game season theory because they in the end all matter the same at the end of the season.
“It’s big for us to get this game,” Jones said. “It’s a tough battle for the highest seed possible.”
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP
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 ...