By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Fresh off one of the biggest victories in recent program history, the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team sets their sights on their final home game before almost a whole month away from the Hooper Eblen Center. The Western Carolina Catamounts will invade Cookeville for a date on Monday evening at 6 p.m., as TTU looks to get on a roll before its upcoming high-profile road trips.
To put themselves in position to win on Monday, the Golden Eagles must avoid a letdown after an extremely emotional win over Middle Tennessee on Friday night.
In a game where many believed Tech to be the home underdog to its heated former conference rival, TTU came flying out of the gate, connecting on seven of 10 first quarter field goals to take a 20-12 lead after one. The momentum gained during the opening stanza translated nicely to the second quarter, as the Golden Eagles added another eight-point cushion for a 39-23 advantage at the half.
While most of the second half belonged to the Blue Raiders, Tech's leaders stood tall when they were needed most.
Akia Harris, the high scorer for the Purple and Gold with 15 points, made an impact at a key moment in the fourth quarter, as she scored seven points in a row to give her team some breathing room after Middle had assumed the lead for the first time in the contest.
Lacy Cantrell (14 points) and Jordan Brock (13) also shined as double-digit scorers, while Abby Buckner had nine points, including a seven-point first quarter that seemed to start Tech's engine offensively.
With the Golden Eagles clinging to a one-point lead with 38 seconds left, it was Anacia Wilkinson's turn to provide in the clutch. The redshirt junior forward took a pass from Akia Harris and buried a jump shot from the elbow to bump the lead back up to three, then recorded one of her career-high six blocks on the other end to key a defensive stop, and force MTSU to foul and pray for rebounds.
Those hopes would be crushed, however, as TTU would go 5-for-6 from the free throw line the rest of the way to emerge victorious, 68-64.
But, for as sweet as that victory was, it is merely history now, as the young Golden Eagles must focus on the path ahead to achieve their larger goals.
With that in mind, here's a look at Western Carolina:
Western Carolina Profile
Western Carolina (1-4) has been a member of the Southern Conference (SoCon) since its inception in the 1983-84 season. It has compiled a 192-337 record over 35 seasons.
While WCU has spent most of those 35 years in the bottom half of the league standings, it did see a three-year stretch (2006-09) where it won at least 14 conference games in each, and earned a share of the regular-season title in 2006-07. It also won SoCon Tournament titles in 2004-05 and 2008-09.
The 2017-18 campaign was a challenging one for coach Stephanie McCormick and the Catamounts, as they won just five games (5-25) and only one game in conference play (1-13).
The Catamounts lost the top four scorers off their team from a year ago, forcing them to replace more than half (847/1,648) of their point scoring for 2018-19.
Returners Tess Harris (9.2 points per game), Angel Allen (7.2 ppg) and Tembre Moates (6.2 ppg) have joined freshman leading scorer Jewel Smalls (9.6 ppg) in picking up much of the slack offensively through five games.
Harris has also been a defensive paint presence for the Catamounts, ranking second in the SoCon with five blocks (1.0 pg).
A fourth veteran, redshirt junior guard Judith Martin Ruiz, has been mostly responsible for distributing the basketball with a team-leading 24 assists (4.8 pg). That average ranks fourth in the conference.
Current Tech graduate manager Emily Hatfield was a forward at Western Carolina from 2014-18. She is the daughter of former Golden Eagle great and 1999 Hall of Fame inductee Melinda (Clayton) Hatfield.
This will be the seventh clash between Tennessee Tech and Western Carolina, the most with any opponent from the state of North Carolina in Tech's all-time history.
Tech currently holds a 4-2 series lead, and won the previous matchup, 61-56, on December 8, 2012.
Of the six games in the series, only two have been played at campus locations. Tech was defeated by Western Carolina in the only previous meeting in Cookeville, as it fell 61-58 on Nov. 26, 2011.
The first four matchups all took place at neutral sites. The first three came during postseason play in the 1970s, as a Marynell Meadors-led Tech program downed WCU in 1972, 1974 and 1976 as part of regional tournament action in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW).
The other encounter on neutral ground was played on Dec. 17, 2007, when Western Carolina took down TTU 74-61 as part of the Hawai'i Paradise Classic.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information