The 13th-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini put their perfect record on the line once more, as they entertain the Western Carolina Catamounts on Tuesday night.
Western Carolina recently had a modest two-game win streak stopped in a 72-70 loss at Eastern Kentucky last Saturday, saddling the team with its fifth setback in eight games this season. The Catamounts are just 1-4 in true road tilts, 2-5 away from home all told, and one of those road wins came at Furman (79-65) last Wednesday in their first Southern Conference bout of the campaign.
Illinois has beaten back all comers, sprinting out to an 8-0 start for the second straight year. John Groce is the first coach to win his first eight games at UI in more than a century. The Illini recently took care of visiting Georgia Tech over the weekend, 75-62, to win their fourth straight ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup. The win was also UI's 19th straight at home against non- conference competition. The Illini have a couple of tough games looming, as they play at Gonzaga on Saturday and against Missouri in St. Louis on Dec. 22, before kicking off Big Ten Conference action at Purdue on Jan. 2, 2013.
Illinois won the only previous matchup between these two teams, taking a 58-35 decision in Champaign on Dec. 17, 2007.
Tawaski King scored 18 points, Mike Brown added 11 and James Sinclair chipped in with 10, but both those efforts went for naught as Western Carolina dropped a two-point decision at Eastern Kentucky on Saturday evening. The Catamounts missed 17 of their 24 three-point attempts, while shooting 42.9 percent from the floor overall, and the Colonels delivered on 53.8 percent of their total shots in dominating the paint to the tune of a 42-26 scoring advantage. Trey Sumler (17.6 ppg, 4.6 apg) is WCU's leading scorer and primary playmaker this season, while King (14.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Tom Tankelewicz (10.6 ppg, team- high 25 three-pointers)) have been productive players as well. Collectively, the Catamounts are scoring and allowing roughly the same number of points (73.6-73.2 ppg), behind identical shooting percentages (.450), but they are hitting 33.5 percent of their long-range tries while holding the opposition to just a 29.5 percent success rate.
Illinois drained a season-high 14 three-pointers in Saturday's win over Georgia Tech, shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc and 47.4 percent from the floor overall. It was just one trey shy of the Assembly Hall record, and only two away from the overall school record. Illinois again put forth a balanced attack, as four players scored in double figures led by Brandon Paul and Joseph Bertrand with 15 points apiece. Tyler Griffey and D.J. Richardson each had 14 points, and Paul added team-highs in both rebounds and assists with seven of each. The Illini won the game despite being outscored in the paint (26-16) and in bench points (30-20). Paul is clearly the team's go-to guy when it needs a big basket, as he is averaging 18.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists per outing, while Richardson (12.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Tracy Abrams (11.5 ppg, 3.5 apg) and Griffey (11.3 ppg, .567 three-point FG percentage) have all produced in one way or another for coach Groce's club. Not surprising considering their early success, UI owns favorable margins in scoring (+16.3), rebounding (+3.9) and turnovers (+2.6).