CULLOWHEE, N.C. - The Western Carolina men’s basketball team will travel north to face Big Ten foe Illinois Saturday afternoon. The meeting will be the third between the two programs and 19th time the Catamounts have faced a Big Ten opponent. The Catamounts are 1-17 all-time against current members of the Big Ten with the lone win coming over Nebraska in 1999. Every Catamount fan remembers the close call WCU had with Big Ten member Purdue in the 1996 NCAA Tournament as WCU came within inches of becoming the first 16 seed to knock off a one seed. The Illinois game will be carried on ESPN3 as well as the Catamount Sports Network with tip-off set for 3 pm (EST).
Western Carolina (3-4) at Illinois (3-5)
Saturday, Dec. 5 | 3 p.m. | Champaign, Ill. | State Farm Center (15,544)
Talent: Zach Zaidman (PxP) and Homer Drew (Analyst)
Radio: Catamount Sports Network
Talent: Daniel Hooker (PxP)
Live Stats: CatamountSports.com
Audio Stream: Catamount Sports Network
Twitter Updates: @Catamounts
Catamounts Versus Fighting Illini
• The Catamounts and Fighting Illini have met just twice on the basketball court.
• Illinois is a perfect 2-0 against WCU with both meetings taking place in Champaign.
• The first meeting between the two teams came on Dec. 17, 2007. The Catamounts were only able to score 35 points in the game and lost 58-35.
• The most recent meeting took place on Dec. 4, 2012. The Fighting Illini were ranked 13th in the country and the Catamounts went toe-to-toe with the Big Ten power and fell 72-64.
WCU and the Big Ten
• The Catamounts have played all but three current members of the Big Ten and hold a 1-17 mark in those games.
• The only three Big Ten schools the Catamounts have not faced are Michigan, Michigan State and Rutgers.
• WCU’s lone win against a current Big Ten school was a 74-72 win at Nebraska on Dec. 3, 1999.
• The Catamounts most recent meeting with a Big Ten school came last season at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers outscored WCU 45-26 in the second half to win 84-64.
Six Degrees of Separation
• The Illinois coaching staff and the Catamount coaching staff have many connections throughout the years.
• Current Illinois assistant Dustin Ford played for current WCU head coach Larry Hunter at Ohio University from 1998-01. Ford also got his collegiate coaching career started on Hunter’s staff at Western Carolina from 2006-08.
• As an assistant at WCU, Ford helped recruit current WCU assistant coach Brigham Waginger who played at WCU from 2007-10.
• Both WCU head coach Larry Hunter and Illinois head coach John Groce have spent time at N.C. State and Ohio University.
• Hunter was head coach at Ohio University from 1989-2001 and was an assistant and associate head coach at N.C. State under Herb Sendek from 2002-05.
• Groce was head coach at Ohio from 2009-12 and served on the N.C. State staff as an assistant coach under coach Sendek from 1997-2000.
• The final connection between Western Carolina and the Illinois coaching staff comes in the form of Thad Matta.
• Thad Matta served as an assistant coach at WCU for one season (1995-96) where he helped guide the Catamounts to their only NCAA Tournament appearance and also coached current WCU assistant coach Anquell McCollum who played at WCU from 1993-96.
• Illinois head coach John Groce served on Matta’s staff at both Xavier (2002-04) and Ohio State (2005-08).
• The Catamounts currently rank sixth in the NCAA in 3-point field goal percentage defense.
• WCU has been holding opponents to 24.0 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and trail just Gonzaga, West Virginia, Stony Brook, Pepperdine and FGCU in the rankings.
A December to Remember
• The Catamounts have quite a month ahead of them with games against perennial powers and recent NCAA Tournament participants including Illinois, Davidson, Morehead State, Eastern Washington and Pittsburgh.
• The five games are sandwiched between home games with Warren Wilson College and Mars Hill University.
• Davidson and Eastern Washington each advanced to the NCAA Tournament a season ago while Illinois, Morehead State and Pittsburgh have all qualified in the last five years.