LINCOLN — Pick your poison.
The Chattanooga women's basketball team has offered that deal to each of its 32 opponents this season. In the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday, sixth-seeded Nebraska will get the same two vials to consider.
NU can try to cover center Ashlen Dewart with one defender and risk the 6-foot-3 junior taking over the game. Or the Huskers can run two defenders at her and risk the Lady Mocs knocking down 3-pointers. No. 11 seed Chattanooga is 29-3 and has won 19 straight, so neither approach has been particularly effective.
“Any given night, any of us can drop 20,” said Dewart, who's averages 15.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Four Lady Mocs have scored more than 20 this year.
Said Chattanooga coach Wes Moore: “Ashlen's a tough matchup down there. A lot of teams have to bring help, and that opens things up for players on the perimeter.”
Moore would know.
He faced Dewart four times when she played for Southern Conference foe Appalachian State, finishing 2-2 against her. Dewart was the Mountaineers' leading scorer and rebounder as a freshman and sophomore before transfering to Chattanooga, the league's premier team that has advanced to the NCAA tournament six times in a decade. An in-conference transfer is rare, but Dewart's older sister, Bailey, had played for the Lady Mocs, too.
After sitting out a season, Dewart said she wanted to “ease into” her junior year. She made an immediate impact for Chattanooga. Before fouling out, she helped the Lady Mocs upset Tennessee 80-71 in the season opener with 10 points. In a 72-58 win at Alabama, she had 19 points and eight rebounds.
Those games, Dewart and Moore said, showed Chattanooga's versatility. When the Lady Mocs hit shots — six players have attempted at least 60 3-pointers — they're hard to beat. When they miss 27 of 31 3-pointers, like they did in a 53-40 loss to Auburn, they're vulnerable.
Chattanooga was ice cold in the Southern Conference tournament title game against Davidson, shooting 35.7 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from 3-point range. The Lady Mocs trailed the entire second half — until a putback with 8.2 seconds left gave them a 64-63 win. It was Moore's ninth conference title in 13 years.
Moore then hoped Chattanooga could avoid playing a first-round game against a host team. He got his wish in a matchup with Nebraska at Texas A&M.
Now the Lady Mocs will try for their first NCAA tournament win since 2004. In 2006, '07, '08 and '10, Chattanooga was a No. 12 or 13 seed, losing each time. And Chattanooga has to find a way to slow down the Huskers' array of scoring options, led by senior point guard Lindsey Moore, the coach said.
“She makes them go,” Moore said. “She does a great job of pushing tempo. We've got to defend well and not let her go crazy.”
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