5:00 PM ET, March 10, 2008
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- Alex Anderson walked with the championship net around her neck, soaking in the sights of her third straight Southern Conference tournament title."To me, it's more special than the other ones because there's no coming back," Chattanooga's star senior said.Anderson scored 25 points and Laura Hall 22 to send Chattanooga back to the NCAAs with a 71-59 victory over Western Carolina in Monday night's conference championship.The Lady Mocs (29-3) continued a near decade of league dominance, winning their seventh tournament title in the past eight years. They've won their past 24 games -- the country's longest streak -- and have taken their last 31 contests against league opponents.Chattanooga enhanced its reputation as the league's best closer, improving to 12-0 all time in Southern Conference tournament finals."This never gets old," said Chattanooga coach Wes Moore, soaked from a victory water dousing by his players.Now, the Lady Mocs will look to match their mid-major splash of 2004 when they stunned Rutgers to open the NCAA tournament before falling to Vanderbilt.Chattanooga is 1-9 in NCAA games, losing in the first round to Baylor a season ago.In that game, the Lady Mocs trailed by 14 points early and Moore let them have it at halftime, saying they were playing scared."That's not us," he said. "That's why I wanted this for the players to have another chance."Now Moore is confident whoever his team gets in the NCAA bracket, the Lady Mocs will give a better effort."They remind me a lot of the team that beat Rutgers," he said.Especially with Anderson and Hall leading the way.The Chattanooga senior scored 14 of her team's first 25 points to open a 13-point lead 10 minutes into the game.Chattanooga still led 31-18 after Hall's two driving baskets, but the Lady Mocs offense disappeared the rest of the half as they missed their final eight shots."Those last five minutes was like a root canal," Moore said.After the break, Anderson and Hall got things going again.Anderson's inside shot and free throw made it 49-41 after Western Carolina drew within five. Hall's long 3-pointer soon after brought the lead back to double digits at 54-43.The Lady Catamounts never got closer than six the rest of the way.Anderson, the SoCon player of the year the past two seasons, added 11 rebounds. She also won her second straight tournament MVP award.Western Carolina (25-8) lost its second straight final to the Lady Mocs."One of the hardest things you have to do as a coach is go into a lockerroom and talk to a brokenhearted team when it's the game they wanted more than anything," said Kellie Harper, the former Tennessee star who also served as a Chattanooga assistant.Even with the loss of Anderson and Hall next season, the Lady Mocs' run might not be over, either. The next two SoCon tournaments will be played in Chattanooga.Jessika Johnson had 13 points to lead Western Carolina, which had set a school record with 25 victories.This time, Western Carolina couldn't take advantage of its chances.During Chattanooga's first-half dry spell, the Lady Catamounts only got two points of their own and trailed 33-22 at halftime. They committed 10 turnovers and were just 1-of-9 from the floor the final six minutes.
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