The best way to describe the moment is "fun."
It's a short word, just three letters, and it can be applied in various manners and interpreted in many ways.
But it sums up the mood of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball players heading into the Southern Conference tournament, where the winner will earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.
That three-letter word also describes the Mocs' last game, a 63-44 whipping of Appalachian State.
It played out in front of a boisterous McKenzie Arena crowd of 4,953 on Zaccheus Mason's senior night with area walk-on Andrew Houts scoring the final points of the game.
"This past weekend was one of the best games to enjoy, not just because it was senior night, but to see our guys having so much fun on the court," Mason said. "That's ultimately what it's about -- having fun on the court."
The Mocs have exceeded expectations and want that enjoyment to continue throughout the week in preparation for the SoCon tournament.
"We've definitely raised some eyebrows by locking up the 2 seed, but we still haven't accomplished all the things we want to get done this season," Mason said. "The [NCAA] tournament is something we want to experience ourselves. It's a goal that we all have set."
They were picked to finish seventh in most preseason polls, including a vote by SoCon coaches. UTC won twice as many SoCon games as No. 7 seed Georgia Southern (13-18, 6-10).
Plus, Mason is a serious candidate for SoCon player of the year and first-year coach Will Wade is one of two contenders for coach of the year. Those awards are scheduled to be announced this afternoon, maybe even while the Mocs are practicing.
During practice they'll be trying to improve their efficiency and not working on what their quarterfinal opponent may do. The Mocs will face either GSU or No. 10 seed Furman (9-20, 3-13) on Saturday at 6 p.m.
UTC swept two games with Furman but were blasted 77-61 by the Eagles in one of its three worst performances all year.
"We have to get better each day this week," junior guard Ronrico White said. "Then we have to be ready on Saturday."
"To win the tournament, you have to win the first game," Wade said. "We need to put all of our focus into winning Saturday; then we'll worry about what happens after that, after that."
Winning 10 straight games that included their first eight in SoCon play put the Mocs in a situation where they can wait and watch Friday in Asheville.
"We don't know who we're going to play," White said. "We have to get ourselves better; then we'll scout those teams to get ready for Saturday."
Until then, many of the players will proudly wear their official shirts, pants and pull-overs while walking to and from class. They're proud to wear the blue-and-gold.
"People are more excited," Mason said. "There's more of a buzz. Fans are coming up to us after games. Even at the women's game, people are supportive.
"The culture on campus has changed a lot."
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6484. Follow him 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 ...