CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Chattanooga coach Wes Moore was so frustrated with Michelle Davis' defense she spent a good portion of the second half of the Southern Conference title game on the bench.
"But then we just couldn't get over the hump. We were down like three it seemed like forever," Moore said. "I finally told the coaches, 'I've got to get MD, Michelle Davis, back in there because she can knock down a 3 for us.'"
Davis hit two key 3-pointers down the stretch before Shanara Hollinquest put it away at the foul line, and Chattanooga rallied to beat Samford 72-67 on Monday night to win its eighth Southern Conference crown in 10 years.
The Lady Mocs (24-8) improved to 13-0 in league title games, but their latest trip to the NCAA tournament required a big comeback.
Down 11 points midway through the second half, Chattanooga turned on the defense while Davis got hot from the outside. Her 3 with 3:03 left gave Chattanooga its first lead of the second half, and she buried another 3 with 1:24 left to make it 64-60.
Hollinquest, voted tournament MVP, hit four free throws in the final 14 seconds to put it away. She had 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Davis scored 16 points.
"At the end of the game your adrenaline is going," Davis said. "You don't feel anything. You just play your heart out."
Savannah Hill scored 26 points, but a six-minute second-half scoring drought doomed the Bulldogs (22-10), who were seeking their first NCAA bid. Samford is assured a trip to the WNIT.
"Obviously we were in new territory being the first time playing in a conference final," coach Mike Morris said. "Got to credit Chattanooga. They've got the experience and have been here before and that kind of showed up at the end. I told our team we got beat by a good team."
Chattanooga's players rushed to the middle of the floor for a group hug as the buzzer sounded and started yet another celebration for Moore's squad after a one-year NCAA tournament absence.
"I hate to say it, but this one was almost a relief," Moore said. "We've been through so much. We had two freshmen starting with Megan Rollins being hurt now."
Chattanooga routed Samford 92-62 at home in the final regular-season game, and early on it looked like it would be just as easy in the matchup of the league's top two seeds.
Despite having Rollins on the bench with a large cast on her left hand after breaking a finger a night earlier in the semifinals, the Lady Mocs dominated early.
Chattanooga's first five baskets were 3-pointers, with Kayla Christopher (11 points) hitting three of them as the Lady Mocs raced to an 11-point lead midway through the first half.
But Samford, which reached the title game in only its second year in the league, quickly rallied. The Bulldogs hit six 3-pointers in the first half, storming to a 38-30 halftime lead.
The versatile Hill, who had added seven assists, scored on a post move and drilled a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to put Samford ahead 50-39 with 12:35 left.
That's when Chattanooga started going inside to Hollinquest, the league's player of the year.
Hollinquest added 10 rebounds and hit all 14 free throw attempts. Chattanooga was 20 of 23 from the line, while Samford attempted just eight free throws and was outrebounded 33-26.
Chattanooga has been a No. 12 seed in its last three NCAA trips and knocked off Rutgers in the first round in 2004 as a No. 10, but Moore is expecting a tougher road.
"We've had a couple bad losses. I'm not going to lie to you," he said. "It's going to hurt some. I think we'll probably get a little more of a challenge as far as a draw goes."