Western Carolina (4-7) at Tennessee (6-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, December 21, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) -- Knoxville, Tennessee. Television: FS South. Home Record: WCU 2-0, UT 4-0. Away Record: WCU 1-6, UT 0-2. Neutral Record: WCU 1-1, UT 2-1. Conference Record: WCU 2-0, UT 0-0. Series Record: Tennessee leads, 6-1.
GAME NOTES: The Tennessee Volunteers will attempt to stay undefeated at Thompson-Boling Arena on Friday night, as they play host to the Western Carolina Catamounts in non-conference action.
WCU hasn't found much success over the course of the first six weeks of the season, as it has won just four of 11 contests, and it has been even worse on the road, with its only win in seven tries coming at intrastate rival Furman, 79-65. The Catamounts had their toughest test to date last Saturday having to travel to Washington, D.C. to take on nationally-ranked Georgetown, and they fought hard before falling in an 81-68 final.
Tennessee is off to a strong 6-3 start, and it has already racked up a couple of quality wins against UMass (83-69) and nationally-ranked Wichita State (69-60). The Vols continued their season-long, six-game homestand on Tuesday night by defeating Presbyterian, 78-62, giving them back-to-back wins for the third time this season.
After WCU won the very first game in the series between these two programs, Tennessee has ripped off six straight victories, although the two haven't met since December of 2002, when the Vols won in Knoxville, 79-61.
While the Catamounts kept their matchup against Georgetown to single-digits for the majority of the first half, things got away from them after intermission as they trailed by as many as 26 points. Despite the setback, they still shot a respectable 46.2 percent from the field against one of the nation's best defensive teams, including 11-of-22 from 3-point range. Tom Tankelewicz had a career-night, draining 6-of-11 from long range on his way to 24 points while playing all 40 minutes. Trey Sumler (11 points) and Preston Ross (10 points) also put together solid performances. WCU averages 71.9 ppg, but it has a losing record as opponents are netting 73.0 ppg. Sumler leads the squad in several categories, including scoring (15.7 ppg), assists (4.1 apg), steals (1.6 spg) and 3-point percentage (.447). Tankelewicz (11.6 ppg) is also great from beyond the arc, draining 36 triples at a 42.4 percent clip, and Tawaski King (12.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) brings stability to the frontcourt.
Presbyterian scored the first bucket of the game, but that was the only deficit Tennessee would have all game, as it went into halftime with a commanding 30-point advantage and cruised to victory. Pacing the Volunteers' balanced effort was Jarnell Stokes with 18 points and seven boards, while Trae Golden had an equally impressive night with 16 points and eight assists. Jordan McRae and Skylar McBee each scored 12 points, and D'Montre Edwards tacked on 11 points off the bench. Points haven't come very easily for Tennessee this season, as it makes a modest 43.2 percent of its field goal attempts for just 64.1 ppg, but it has played well at the defensive end in allowing just 57.9 ppg on a typical shooting effort of only 39.2 percent. Golden, who's the reigning SEC Player of the Week after scoring 25 in the Dec. 13 win over Wichita State, averages 13.6 ppg and has dished out 45 assists compared to just 16 turnovers. Stokes is a force on the inside, shooting 58.6 percent from the field for 11.9 ppg while adding 7.7 rpg. McRae rounds out the unit's double-digit scorers with 10.1 ppg.
WCU has the 3-point shooting potential to crack the impressive defensive game plan Tennessee brings to the table, but it will need to put together one of its best shooting performances of the year to take down the Vols on their home floor. Expect Stokes, Golden and company to put forth another balanced effort in notching a double-digit win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tennessee 77, Western Carolina 62
12/21 10:33:18 ET