Dec. 21, 2005
Cullowhee, N.C. -
On Thursday, December 22, the Western Carolina men's basketball team (7-6) will host Gardner-Webb University at 7:00 pm in the Catamounts' final game before Christmas. The Bulldogs, who upset Minnesota on the road and lost on a buzzer-beater at North Carolina, is 4-2 this season. Despite their close proximity, this marks just the seventh time Western Carolina and Gardner-Webb have met on the hardwood. In addition, this will be the teams' first meeting since 1992.
In 1973, Western and Gardner-Webb played a home-and-home series, with each team defending its home court. First, on Jan. 27, 1973, Western hosted Gardner-Webb, defeating the Bulldogs, 79-66. Twenty-one days later, on Feb. 17, the Catamounts traveled to Boiling Springs and dropped a 100-88 decision. The first meeting in the series was a 60-59 Catamount victory on Dec. 29, 1970 in Boiling Springs.
In the second meeting, Gardner-Webb evened the series with a 109-85 Bulldog thrashing of WCU in Cullowhee. However, Western was able to take its current 4-2 advantage in the series with an 88-83 victory in Cullowhee on Jan. 2, 1991 and a 102-90 decision a year later (Feb. 19, 1992) in the RAC.
After playing GWU, Western will have several days off before returning to action Dec. 31 at Georgia. Tipoff in Athens is set for 4 pm and the game will be on CSS TV. Three days later, Western will stay on the road face another SEC team, Mississippi, on Jan. 3 at 7:00 pm CT, which is 8 pm ET.
LOOKING BACK AND LOOKING FORWARD
In its last game, an 83-57 victory over The Citadel, Western Carolina opened Southern Conference play with a victory. The Catamounts' 26-point decision was their largest win in the league since handing those same Bulldogs a 29-point setback two years ago. Western improved to 12-17 all-time in SoCon openers and just 4-9 when playing its first league game of the year at home.
With Western's next win, the Catamounts will tie its win total of eight from last year.
RUSSELL & WCU IN NATIONAL RANKINGS FOR FREE THROWS
Sophomore Antonio Russell, who was 53-of-93 (.57 percent) from the free throw line last season, has already made 61 free throws in 13 games this season to rank fifth in the nation in the category (according the espn.com and Stats, Inc.). Even more impressive, he has only taken 69 for an 88.4 percentage on the season to rank among the national leaders. For those who have made at least 15 free throws this season, Russell's 88.4 free throw percentage ranks 45th in the nation. Thanks largely to Russell and the fact that the Catamounts have played an NCAA-best 13 games to date, Western Carolina ranks second in the nation in free throws made with 208 on the season. (However, there is a large number of teams to have played 10-to-12 games to date as well.)
Russell is fourth in the Southern Conference in free throw percentage, trailing sharp shooters Brenden Winters of Davidson (38-of-41, .927), Kevin Oleksiak of UNC Greensboro (32-of-35, .914) and Eric Webb of Furman (27-of-30, .900).
Western Carolina has become a very proficient 3-point shooting team. In fact, its 39.5 percentage from beyond the arc ranks second in the SoCon and 43rd in the nation. A further look inside the numbers shows Western's 84 3-pointers made this season ranks fourth in the nation, trailing West Virginia (101), Troy (101) and Wofford (95).
One would not have thought of Western as a 3-point threat early in the season. Western only made 14 of its first 58 3-point shots over its first three games, good for just 24.1 percent. However, that percentage steadily climbed. Over the last four game, Western has made 42 of its 86 treys, good for 48.8 percent. Also over that span, which includes a 3-1 record, Western made a school-record 14 3's in a win over UNC Asheville, then nearly duplicated the feat by making 13 in a win over The Citadel in its last outing.
Antonio Russell ranks fourth in the SoCon in 3-point percentage (43.5), followed immediately by Eric Wilson (.433) and Kyle Greathouse (.426).
BERGHOEFER CLOSING IN ON 1,0000
Western Carolina senior David Berghoefer only needs 30 more points to give him 1,000 points for his career. Berghoefer would become the 34th Catamount to score 1,000 points in a career.
WCU IN THE SoCon STATS
Western Carolina, who leads the SoCon by holding its opponent to just 30.9 rebounds per game, also ranks second in the league in scoring defense (61.8), 3-point percentage (.395) and 3-point percentage defense (.304).
Individually, Antonio Russell ranks seventh in the SoCon in scoring (15.2) to go along with his free throw and 3-point shooting percentages. David Berghoefer ranks 16th in the SoCon in overall rebounding (5.4). Corey Muirhead ranks 11th in the SoCon in field goal percentage (.518), thanks to him making 11-of-21 3-pointers (.524).