CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- This one was all about the "R" word. Respect.
Or lack thereof for a school from a smaller conference that was considered an appendage of the University of Tennessee.
The team wants to be known as simply Chattanooga, not Tennessee-Chattanooga, with the nickname Mocs, referring to the mockingbird, the state bird. No more Moccasins. And no more Chief Mocanooga on the logo.
After yesterday's outing in the NCAA Southeast Regional, their identity problem has been eased.
The 14th-seeded Mocs thought Illinois was taking a little too much for granted during a pre-game celebration and vented their anger on the court with a 75-63 victory that propelled them into the Sweet 16 for the first time.
"They didn't acknowledge who we were," said Chattanooga point guard Willie Young. "They were going crazy in their locker room before the game like we weren't even there. They acted like they were going out for a scrimmage or something."
"We really wanted to go out and send a message," elaborated the Mocs' Southern Conference Player of the Year Johnny Taylor. "They were in there carrying on and yelling 'Final Four' because Providence had won. That kind of got under our skin."
Illinois' players denied that the Final Four was a topic and said they were simply undergoing a pre-game ritual that prepares them to play.
Whichever version is more accurate, the bottom line is that Chattanooga (24-10) transformed a highly competitive game into another upset win by outscoring the Illini 20-4 in the final 7 1/2 minutes.
Earlier in the second half, Illinois (22-10) had eased ahead by as many as seven points, but then underwent a drought from the field (one field goal in almost 14 minutes) and missed its opportunity to cement the victory.
"We had a chance to stick it to them, but we never did," said Illinois All-American Kiwane Garris, who scored a game-high 19 points. "The way the game was going, the team that was hungrier the last 10 minutes was going to win."
The mental aspect was a factor, but so was the strategy.
The re-insertion of foul-plagued Young with Illinois ahead 59-55 jump-started the Mocs' offense, and a bigger lineup employed by coach Mack McCarthy down the stretch wore down the smaller Illini on the boards (39-21 Mocs edge) and a zone defense cut off Garris' penetration.
"We guarded a lot better out of the zone. We didn't have to fight through 18 screens," said McCarthy.
He also attracted a technical foul early in the half with Illinois on a mini-run, perhaps waking up his team. "Sometimes, this team needs a little oomph to get them focused and playing as hard as they need to," McCarthy said.
"We had to get more aggressive in order to get the calls. And they [Illinois] missed the shot at the end of that possession, giving us another boost."
A layup by Marquis Collier gave the Mocs the lead to stay. Taylor followed with a jumper, Young made two free throws and Isaac Conner scored on a feed from Young to culminate an unanswered 11-point surge by the Mocs.
They then paraded to the free-throw line to pull away in the final two minutes.
Chattanooga goes to the regional finals in Birmingham, Ala., on a seven-game roll. It is the first Southern Conference team in the Sweet 16 since the field expanded to 64 in 1985.
TENNESSEE-CHATTANOOGA -- Conner 3-8 1-2 8, Taylor 5-12 2-5 12, Mims 3-4 6-8 12, Young 5-12 4-5 15, Moore 2-4 5-6 11, Phillips 1-1 0-0 3, Collier 3-3 6-8 12, Hutchins 0-0 0-0 0, Oloko 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-45 24-34 75.
ILLINOIS -- Gee 1-3 0-0 2, Gandy 5-7 1-1 13, Heldman 4-7 1-2 11, Garris 5-14 7-10 19, Turner 2-8 0-0 4, Chukwudebe 3-6 0-1 6, Notree 1-5 0-0 2, Johnson 1-1 4-4 6, Boline 0-0 0-0 0, Freeman 0-0 0-0 0, Caldwell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-51 13-18 63.
Halftime--Illinois 34-33. 3-point goals--UTC 5-13 (Moore 2-4, Phillips 1-1, Young 1-3, Conner 1-4, Taylor 0-1), Illinois 6-15 (Gandy 2-2, Heldman 2-2, Garris 2-8, Turner 0-3). Fouled out--Young, Gandy, Notree. Rebounds--UTC 39 (Mims 12), Illinois 21 (Gee, Gandy, Garris, Turner, Chukwudebe 3). Assists--UTC 8 (Young 3), Illinois 12 (Garris 5). Total fouls--UTC 18, Illinois 19. A--14,864.
Pub Date: 3/17/97