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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Chattanooga coach Jim Foster can thank his famous former assistant for helping give the Lady Mocs the longest active home winning streak of any Division I women's basketball program.
He'd rather not talk about the streak to anyone.
When top-ranked Connecticut won 66-55 at No. 7 Baylor on Monday to end the Lady Bears' string of 69 consecutive home victories, it put Chattanooga atop all Division I schools with its current streak of 32 straight home wins. Connecticut's Geno Auriemma began his coaching career by working for Foster, first at the high school level and later at St. Joseph's. They remain good friends and spoke to each other earlier this week.
"We went back and forth a little," Foster said. "That (streak) was not a topic of discussion."
Chattanooga's players and coaches watched the Connecticut-Baylor game on the team bus Monday after a 73-68 overtime victory at Appalachian State, but senior forwards Taylor Hall and Ashlen Dewart said they didn't realize at the time how a Baylor loss would affect their own team. They weren't going to find out from Foster, who would rather focus on Chattanooga's next game. He avoids paying attention to the home winning streak or anything else that might cause a distraction.
"I don't put any thought into that," Foster said. "It's wasted energy."
But it also can provide attention for a Chattanooga program that has made nine NCAA tournament appearances in the last 13 years. The Lady Mocs haven't lost at the McKenzie Arena since falling 68-66 to Samford in overtime in the 2011 Southern Conference tournament.
Division III program Amherst owns the nation's longest active home winning streak regardless of classification with 94 straight.
Chattanooga's home winning streak includes an 80-71 upset of Tennessee last season in the Lady Vols' first game of the post-Pat Summitt era. The Lady Mocs (14-3, 6-0 Southern Conference) also have beaten Southeastern Conference programs Auburn and Alabama during this streak. They'll put the streak on the line Saturday against Wofford (3-12, 1-4).
"I'm sure it's made the target on our back even bigger," Hall said. "Everybody wants to come in and beat us now here. Even on the road, they want to get us, but here that would be like a national championship, just (to) ruin that streak for us."
The Lady Mocs are 198-43 at McKenzie Arena since it opened in 1983. Chattanooga has an average attendance of 2,100 this season. None of its conference opponents average more than 554 fans per home game.
"Pat Summitt had something to do with that, making the state so excited about women's basketball," said Wes Moore, who coached Chattanooga from 1998-2013 before taking over North Carolina State's program this season. "I think we all benefited from it."
Moore remembered the McKenzie Arena was set up in such a way that fans in the lower bowl seemed right on top of the action, creating even more of a home-court advantage. Although the seats in the lower bowl were replaced this season, the arena's configuration didn't change. The place remains intimidating for conference opponents accustomed to playing in front of just a few hundred fans.
Dewart knows particularly well how that atmosphere can help the Lady Mocs and bother their opponents. Dewart played on the Appalachian State team that handed Chattanooga its last regular-season home loss on Feb. 14, 2011. Dewart transferred to Chattanooga after the 2010-11 season.
"I think the crowd comments were definitely hard to get used to" while at Appalachian State, Dewart said. "But when they're on your side, it's nice to have. It's a hostile environment, but it's that much better when it's for you and it's defending your team. We love our crowd. We wouldn't be where we (are) without them."