Chattanooga Pulls Out Close One Over North Alabama

UTC Women Prevail 68-65 Despite Injury To Raven Thompson

  • Saturday, December 9, 2023
  • John Hunt
A late layup by freshman Caia Elisaldez helped guide UTC to its seventh win in a row. Jada Guinn finishes with a team-best 21 points and 13 boards.
A late layup by freshman Caia Elisaldez helped guide UTC to its seventh win in a row. Jada Guinn finishes with a team-best 21 points and 13 boards.
photo by Ray Soldano/GoMocs.com

This has been quite an emotional week for Chattanooga’s women’s basketball team, but everything has turned out just fine.

It all began last Sunday with a heart-stopping comeback win over a ranked Mississippi State team. Following was final exams this week before Saturday afternoon’s game with the North Alabama Lions, who entered the game with a 3-5 record.

It probably shouldn’t have been a close game, but it was as those Lions from Florence gave those Mocs all they wanted and more. Chattanooga improved to 9-1 with its seventh straight win, but it easily could have gone the other way after the Mocs prevailed by a 68-65 final.

UTC coach Shawn Poppie has done an incredible job of getting his girls to play at the highest level in his second season at the helm, but he was quick to admit that Saturday’s win was simply that and that his team achieved it despite not playing their best game.

“We definitely made it interesting, but a win is a win and we’ll take it, no matter how bad it looks,” he said in his post-game media interview.

“It might not have been pretty and it certainly wasn’t our best game, but at the end, we showed our grit. North Alabama is certainly better than their record and they will win a bunch of games, but we just had to make a play at the end and were able to do just that.

“Karsen Murphy has had a great season for us so far as she continues to improve, but she came up with a big stop when we needed it most. And what can you say about Caia Elisaldez, who is a freshman from California who has been on a roller coaster all season. She too made a really big play and scored the game winner, which will only help her confidence.

“But we were on an emotional high this week. We didn’t have that great a focus in practice this week and we weren’t particularly sharp in our shoot around today, but I’m just glad we found a way to get a win. We didn’t play our best, but we’ll take it and move on,” Poppie nodded.

Perhaps the biggest news from the Chattanooga camp is the fact that leading scorer and emotional leader Raven Thompson went down with an undisclosed knee injury with 3:30 left in the third quarter and didn’t return. The Mocs were up 45-36 at that point, but the Lions kept battling and were able to regain the advantage midway through the fourth quarter after trailing since the third minute of the first quarter.

Chattanooga’s biggest lead of 11 points came twice in the final minute of the third quarter, the last time at 53-42 following a layup by Murphy with 18 seconds left. Chloe Siegel bagged a 3 some nine seconds later and the difference was 53-45 with one quarter remaining.

Seven straight points to start the last stanza allowed the Lions to get within one at 53-52 following a drive down the lane by Allie Craig Cruce with 8:07 to play. Jada Guinn, who basically took charge of the UTC offense after Thompson went down, scored back-to-back buckets to put the Mocs up 57-52 with 6:21 before North Alabama scored six straight and took the lead at 58-57 following a drive down the lane by Veronaye Charlton with 4:39 showing.

Sigrun Olafsdottir picked up her fifth personal foul some 40 seconds later and the Lion lead stretched to 60-57 following two free throws by Sara Wohlgemuth. A layup by Alyssa Clutter with 3:03 to play extended North Alabama’s lead to 63-60.

Guinn scored back-to-back buckets again, including a beautiful left-handed layup with 2:02 to play for a 64-63 Chattanooga lead. Two free throws by Charlton put the Lions ahead 65-64 with 1:47 to play and it stayed that way until Elisaldez scored on a nice drive from the wing with 20.8 seconds that put UTC ahead 66-65.

The Lions had plenty of time for a last-second shot, but Cruce missed a big one in the lane that Murphy rebounded with 3.1 seconds to play. North Alabama fouled three straight times on the inbounds play before Guinn went to the line with one second remaining to sink two.

Clutter took a desperation shot at the end that was partially blocked by Murphy as the horn sounded and the Chattanooga crowd took a collective sigh of relief.

North Alabama coach Missy Tiber could only say good things about her team as they battled for all they were worth and more before coming out on the short end of the stick.

“We played our hearts out today and really didn’t have anything to lose, but a possession here or there made the difference in the game,” she said while standing outside the North Alabama dressing room following her radio interview.

“We have a really young team and we haven’t been in a game like this before, but I’m just hoping that we’ll be better the next time we play,” she added with a smile.

Guinn finished with 21 points to lead the Mocs after tallying only eight in the first half. Thompson was also in double figures with 16.

Alexis Callins, who hit four of five shots from long range, led the Lions with 18 points while Charlton and Clutter both followed with 15 apiece.

Guinn also claimed 13 rebounds as Chattanooga won the battle of the boards by a 30-26 margin.

Chattanooga plays its next game on the road at Lipscomb on Thursday before returning home for its next home game next Sunday against Eastern Kentucky in a game with a 6 p.m. tip.

NORTH ALABAMA 9 19 17 20 -- 65

CHATTANOOGA 16 20 17 15 -- 68

NORTH ALABAMA (65) – Wohlgemuth 2, Charlton 15, Criswell 4, Callins 18, Clutter 15, Pegues, Siegel 3, Jones, Cruce 8.

CHATTANOOGA (68) – Thompson 16, Murphy 6, Olafsdottir 5, Porter 7, Guinn 21, Kohn 5, Farrell 2, Elisaldez 6.

FIELD GOALS: North Alabama 24 of 52 for 46.2 percent; Chattanooga 27 of 56 for 48.2 percent.

3-POINT GOALS: North Alabama 8 of 20 for 40.0 percent (Wohlgemuth 0-2, Charlton 1-3, Criswell 0-1, Callins 4-5, Clutter 0-3, Siegel 1-1, Jones 0-1, Cruce 2-4); Chattanooga 3 of 12 for 25.0 percent (Murphy 0-2, Olafsdottir 1-2, Porter 1-3, Guinn 0-1, Kohn 1-3, Elisaldez 0-1).

FREE THROWS: North Alabama 9 of 12 for 75.0 percent; Chattanooga 11 of 12 for 91.7 percent.

REBOUNDS: North Alabama 26 (Wohlgemuth 8, Clutter 5, Criswell 3, Callins 3); Chattanooga 30 (Guinn 13, Porter 5, Thompson 4).

ASSISTS: North Alabama 12 (Wohlgemuth 7, Clutter 2); Chattanooga 7 (Thompson 3, Kohn 2).

TURNOVERS: North Alabama 12 (Callins 4, Wohlgemuth 3, Clutter 2); Chattanooga 11 (Guinn 3, Porter 2, Kohn 2).

STEALS: North Alabama 3 (Charlton, Callins, Cruce all with one each); Chattanooga 4 (Murphy, Porter, Guinn, Elisaldez all with one each).

BLOCKS: North Alabama 6 (Criswell 4); Chattanooga 1 (Kohn).

ATTENDANCE: 1,233.

(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@gmail.com)

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