Chattanooga tops Davidson late to secure tourney berth

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Kayla Christopher had one bit of advice for her Chattanooga teammates coming out of the huddle in the final frantic seconds -- crash the boards.

The Lady Mocs had 21 offensive rebounds, but none bigger than Christopher's putback with 8.2 seconds remaining that lifted Chattanooga to a 64-63 victory over Davidson in the Southern Conference championship Monday.

"I've been dreaming about this day for a month now and imagining what it would be like," Christopher said. "For it to actually come true is just awesome."

It was Chattanooga's ninth conference championship in 13 years under Wes Moore.

But Moore said this one is special, particularly because it's been three years since his team has been back to the NCAA tournament.

The 11-point deficit was the largest Chattanooga has overcome this season.

"These girls just don't quit," Moore said. "We felt some pressure out there. You just can't help it. You look at the things we did on a day when it was tough to score, it's all about heart. It was all about work ethic and being relentless. We just kept coming at them and they were finally rewarded with eight seconds left."

The Lady Mocs (29-3) enter the NCAA tournament riding a 19-game winning streak.

"I think we have a team that can compete in the NCAA Tournament now that we got through this," Moore said.

Chattanooga trailed throughout the second half until Christopher grabbed an offensive rebound on the weak side after two missed shots and put it in for the go-ahead score to deny Davidson its first trip to the NCAA tournament.

"She's been so important this team," Dewart said. "Kayla's last layup is just the cherry on top. I was worried for about a half second after I missed my shots."

Taylor Hall had 19 points and tournament MVP Dewart was a force inside with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Davidson junior Laura Murray, who had a game-high 22 points, missed a 15-footer at the buzzer.

Sophia Aleksandravicius, the two-time Southern Conference player of the year, had 18 points on 8 of 11 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds for Davidson.

Davidson (21-11) shot 54 percent from the field to Chattanooga's 36 percent, but the Wildcats' 19 turnovers proved costly.

With the game tied at 58, Murray knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing and then scored on an acrobatic drive down the right side of the lane to give the Wildcats a five-point lead with 2:13 left.

But Hall, who had 12 points in the second half and kept Chattanooga in the game, hit a pair of free throws and scored on a drive of her own to pull the Lady Mocs to 63-62 with 40 seconds remaining.

As Davidson was working on the clock Murray was called for an illegal screen, giving Chattanooga the ball with 25 seconds to go.

Davidson had one final change to win the game and Chattanooga came out with a full-court press.

Murray got the ball up the floor and had a clean shot from the left wing that hit off the backboard and rim and bounced out. It was the sour ending for Murray, who was 6 of 10 from the field and was the catalyst all game for Davidson, despite nine turnovers.

"We just tried to make a play," Murray said. "I came down the left side and tried to run off girls and make it. I wasn't happy with it since it wasn't made. I'm still thinking about it now. What could I have done? I don't ever want to feel like this again. I don't ever want to lose like that again."

"We knew it would be a battle to the end," Davidson coach Michele Savage said. "We withstood a lot throughout out the game, but we slipped down at the end."

Game notes
Chattanooga held a 36-32 edge on the boards, but 22 of those came on the offensive end. ... Chattanooga senior guard Kylie Lambert got engaged at midcourt after the game.