CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Wes Moore doesn't often flash a smile during the season, but there was no hiding his ear-to-ear grin while cutting down the nets in Asheville on Monday.
The veteran University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach finally got a chance to exhale following an exhausting and exhilarating four-month run, opening up about the team that claimed the school's 14th SoCon title.
"This really has been such a fun group to coach," Moore said. "I know they probably don't believe that by my demeanor most of the time because I'm 'demeanor' than most."
Corny jokes aside, the Lady Mocs' route its first championship since 2010 was no laughing matter.
Chattanooga may have finished 19-1 in league play, but they rallied from behind in many of those wins and survived scares in seven single-digit victories..
"They just don't quit," Moore said. "That's all about heart and it's all about work ethic and being relentless. They just keep coming."
It took that same grit and toughness to win three games in three days in Asheville to snap a two-year NCAA Tournament drought.
The Lady Mocs erased a five-point deficit in the final six minutes to hold off Appalachian State in the semifinals, then used their first double-digit comeback of the year to rally from eleven down in the second half to beat Davidson in the final.
UTC entered the championship game 0-3 this season in games that it trailed by double-figures.
"We busted our tails those last few minutes and it paid off," said junior post Ashlen Dewart, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "It's just like how hard we've played this whole season. It all paid off."
Dewart said it was fitting that Kylie Lambert and Kayla Christopher made the game's deciding plays in the final 30 seconds.
Lambert drew a charge on Laura Murray to give Chattanooga the ball down 63-62 with 24.4 to play, setting up Christopher's game-winning put-back with 8.2 to go.
The two seniors were freshman on Chattanooga's last SoCon championship team in 2010, and they made it their mission this season to ensure that next year's team wouldn't be the first in a decade without NCAA Tournament experience.
"Not everyone gets to play, but everyone comes to practice every day and works their butt off," Christopher said. "I'm just happy we can leave them with this feeling so they can get here next year."
But UTC isn't looking that far ahead just yet.
In a season that already includes a 19-game win streak, and second-straight undefeated home record and a victory over Tennessee, the Lady Mocs now have a chance to make more history.
They tied their single-season record for wins in the SoCon final, meaning an opening round victory in the NCAA Tournament would make this the winningest season in program history.
"I'm excited. I think we've got a team that can compete in the NCAA Tournament," said Moore, who will learn his team's destination and opponent next Monday. "To do what they've done, what are we now, 29-3? It would have been such a tragedy to not advance and see what we can do."
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