Keeping it clean

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The defensive strength of the Chattanooga women’s basketball team is well known and recognized as a big reason for the Mocs’ success this season.

The 17th-ranked Mocs are No. 2 in NCAA Division I scoring defense, allowing 50.1 points per game and they are especially tough in the first half of games. They’ve held opposing teams to 20 points or less in the first half in eight of the past nine games.

A lesser-known but also important factor in UTC’s success is the ability to be so good on defense without committing fouls.

UTC (28-3) leads Division I in fewest fouls committed with just 11 per game, and it is one of only two teams in the nation that have not had a player foul out of a game this season.

“Coach [Jim] Foster makes it a big deal in practice that we don’t want to be a team that fouls,” junior guard Alicia “Red” Payne said. “We don’t want to be a team that puts other people on the line to get easy shots. He’s real hard about that on us in practice, so we just try to go out in the game and try to do it.”

Foster demands discipline from his players in all aspects of the game, and the Mocs’ clean play is a byproduct of the work they do in practice of knowing where to be and what to do at all times.

“But we work every day on the discipline of not fouling,” the coach said. “We’re a very disciplined basketball team on the offensive and defensive ends. It’s just practice and players being disciplined and understanding what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Most teams emphasize the physicality of the game. Bodying up and banging. We’re disciplined and take advantage of it.
— Jim Foster

The lack of fouling doesn’t indicate a lack of aggression on the Mocs’ part. They are second in the SoCon in steals and lead the league in turnover margin, and sophomore post player Jasmine Joyner has set a UTC and a SoCon record with 125 blocked shots this season.

The Mocs use footwork and teamwork to put themselves in positions to make plays on defense and are able to make clean plays and draw more charges than their opponents.

“With how aggressive we are, it’s kind of amazing that we don’t foul as often as other teams,” senior guard Ka’Vonne Towns said. “But at the same time, we just move our feet and like to be aggressive while not fouling.”

“[Foster] really emphasizes moving your feet and help-side [defense]. When we play help-side, I feel like we’re taking a little bit of pressure off the player who’s on the ball.”

Payne, as the Mocs’ defensive specialist, would seem to be the most likely to be called for fouls at times. In SoCon play, she led the league with 35 steals this season, but Foster and her teammates make sure she’s playing tough but smart.

“In practice, they’re real hard on me. If I do make a mistake and foul people, they call me out on it,” she said. “They constantly tell me to play smart and don’t reach.”

UTC plays seven players in most games, although Foster can go deeper into the bench if needed. He said his emphasis on not fouling is not reflective of a concern about depth but is part of his philosophy on how to play the game.

“Depth is not an issue with us,” he said. “Most teams play seven or eight people at this time of year, and we have a couple of people who can come off the bench and give us minutes if it is an issue.

“Most teams emphasize the physicality of the game. Bodying up and banging. We’re disciplined and take advantage of it.”

As for the impact on opposing teams, the ability to keep other players from shooting free throws has an impact both on the scoreboard and in the mental aspect of the game — an impact that could prove crucial in what might be a tough title game against a dangerous Buccaneers team looking to knock off the Mocs.

“I think it makes a big difference, especially in those close games where every shot counts,” Payne said. “If we’re not putting them on the line, then they can’t get easy points. I think it goes to our advantage that we’re not fouling and they are fouling.

“I think it frustrates [opponents] and gives us an edge.”

This article was written by Jim Tanner from Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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