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  • Daniel Hooker

Catamount Men’s Basketball Returns to Action Saturday at USC Upstate



Western Carolina men’s basketball returns to action on Saturday afternoon as the Catamounts travel to USC Upstate opening a brief two-game nonconference road swing. Tip-off from the G.B. Hodge Center is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

 

Saturday’s game will be broadcast on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) with live streaming audio from the Catamount Sports Network and live stats available through CatamountSports.com. Fans locally can also listen to the game on 105.7 FM / 540 AM WRGC The River in Sylva or online at WRGC.com.

 

Both teams return to action after sitting idle this week for final exams. WCU snapped a two-game slide with a win over mountain-rival UNC Asheville 78-63 in Cullowhee last Saturday, while Upstate dropped an 84-77 decision at home to Kennesaw State. The victory on Ingles Court at the Ramsey Center marked the seventh straight for the Catamounts dating back to last season.

 

WCU’s leading scorer Vonterius Woolbright paced the Catamounts last time out with his sixth double-double of the season, finishing with 23 points and 12 rebounds to win the much-heralded battle between preseason players of the year between him and Asheville’s Drew Pember (18 points, 6 rebounds). Woolbright was joined in double figures by Bernard Pelote with 13 off the bench, and both Tre Jackson and DJ Campbell chipping in a dozen apiece.

 

Woolbright continues to lead the SoCon, averaging a double-double with 22.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. He’s joined in double-figure scoring by Campbell (12.2 ppg, 20th), Tre Jackson (11.0 ppg, 24th), and Russell Jones Jr. (10.6 ppg, 25th). Jackson climbed into 17th in WCU’s history now with 135 made 3-pointers in his Cullowhee career, while Woolbright continues to inch closer to the 1,000-point plateau in a Catamount uniform with 940 points scored over the last three seasons.

 

All told the Catamounts look to put the clamps on a short two-game road winless drought with Saturday’s road tilt.

 

USC Upstate enters the weekend with a 4-6 seasonal mark including a 2-1 record at home with both wins coming against non-Division I opponents – National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) foe Carolina University and NAIA Voorhees University. The Spartans do own road wins over East Carolina (83-81) and North Carolina Central (85-82), as well as a close, two-point overtime loss at Coastal Carolina (72-70) to date this season.

 

The Spartans have two players averaging double-figure scoring on the season with two just off the 10-point plateau. Second-team preseason All-Big South Conference selections Justin Bailey and Trae Broadnax average 12.8 and 12.2 points respectively to rank 13th and 17th in the Big South rankings. Upstate has a familiar face to Catamount fans in forward Ahmir Langlais – who began his career at WCU in 2020-21 after redshirting in 2019-20. The Atlanta, Ga., product is averaging  9.9 points and a team-best 6.6 rebounds per game with Spanish-born guard Miguel Ayesa adding 9.2 points per game.

 

As a team, USC Upstate ranks eighth out of nine teams in the high-scoring Big South Conference, averaging 73.1 points per game while surrendering right at 71 per contest. The Spartans have allowed opponents to shoot nearly 45 percent collectively from the floor – a stat that could be critical as WCU enters the weekend as the top-shooting team in the SoCon at over 48 percent including 35 percent from range.

 

USC Upstate represents the fourth consecutive Big South opponent for the Catamounts on this year's nonconference schedule. WCU dropped two in a row at Big South foes Gardner-Webb (82-77) and High Point (97-71) before downing defending league champion and preseason favorite UNCA last Saturday. The Catamounts improved to 86-85 all-time against teams currently in the Big South Conference.

 

The Spartans were picked sixth in the preseason Big South Conference polls.

 

Despite the proximity of the two programs, Western Carolina and USC Upstate have only met three times previously on the men’s basketball hardwood dating back to a neutral floor match-up in tournament action in Kent, Ohio, in 2013. WCU trails in the all-time series 1-2 with its lone victory coming in Spartanburg back in 2021. Upstate upended the Catamounts in Cullowhee last season, 79-64. Jackson hit three 3-pointers in scoring 15 points with Woolbright scoring 11 with six rebounds and four assists to lead WCU’s returning scorers. Grad student Nick Alves ranks among the top returning Spartans from a year ago with 12 points and seven boards, while Bailey (11 pts) and Broadnax (8 pts) are both back this year.

 

Following Saturday afternoon’s match-up with the Spartans, the Catamounts look for their second Power Five Conference victory as WCU visits the Vanderbilt Commodores (4-5) in Nashville, Tenn., on Tues., Dec. 19 before hosting Brescia on United Community Bank Education Day on Thurs., Dec. 21. WCU upended ACC-foe Notre Dame on the road back on Nov. 11 in South Bend, Ind., representing the first P-5 victory for the program since defeating Arkansas on the road in the 2003-04 season.

 

Vandy travels to Texas Tech this weekend before returning home to face its second SoCon foe of the season. The Commodores downed UNCG 74-70 back in mid-November representing the lone loss for the SoCon’s Spartans this season.

 

Tuesday’s game will be broadcast on the SEC Network Plus (paid subscription required) with live stats available online through CatamountSports.com. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. CT.

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