Chattanooga is hoping it won’t be deja vu all over again.
Once again riding a 25-game winning streak, the 17th-ranked Lady Mocs try to end a seven-game skid in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday when they play Pittsburgh in the first round in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Seeded seventh, Chattanooga (29-3) has not lost since a 57-52 defeat at Arkansas State on Dec. 1 and ran the table in the Southern Conference and conference tournament, winning those 17 games by an average of 18.9 points while holding opponents to 47.3 points per game.
Last season, the Lady Mocs reeled off 25 straight wins heading into the field of 64 and lost 59-53 to Syracuse – their seventh straight NCAA Tournament loss since beating Rutgers in 2004, tying them for the fifth-longest active losing streak.
Coach Jim Foster strengthened his team’s nonconference schedule and was rewarded with home wins over tournament perennials Tennessee and Stanford – both ranked seventh or higher in their trips to Chattanooga. Chattanooga also had a two-point loss to South Florida and was blown out 88-53 at No. 1 seed Notre Dame.
”We had some good wins (last year), but nothing significant,” Foster said. This year ”we played some of the better teams in this tournament, and we’ve won some of those games.”
The Lady Mocs are led by junior forward Jasmine Joyner, who is averaging team highs of 12.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.0 blocks. Joyner, who recorded a Southern Conference-record 118 blocks, anchors a defense that ranks second in Division I in allowing 50.4 points per game.
Pittsburgh (19-11) was picked to finish last in the ACC after winning 11 games in 2013-14, but coach Suzie McConnell-Serio guided the Panthers to a seventh-place finish in the rugged ACC and then sweated out a first-round conference tournament loss to Virginia Tech to claim an at-large bid.
”Our players knew that had we won one (more) game, we were probably a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament,” McConnell-Serio said after the Panthers claimed their first berth since 2009. ”And then we lost, so we become somewhat of a bubble team. That was the longest week of our life.”
Senior guard Brianna Kiesel paces Pitt, and her 18.2 points per game were good for fourth in the conference. She will be sternly tested by the backcourt tandem of Alicia Payne – the Southern Conference defensive player of the year – and Ka’Vonne Towns, two of five Lady Mocs to record at least 40 steals.
Backing Kiesel is the freshman trio of Aysia Bugg, Stasha Carey and Yacine Diop, who have combined to contribute 24.5 points and 17.1 rebounds per game.
The winner of this game will play the second-seeded Lady Vols or 15th-seeded Boise State in the second round Monday.