Western Carolina faces big challenge against No. 23 Iowa

Western Carolina has played every Big Ten team except Michigan, Michigan State and Rutgers and has a 1-20 overall mark.

On Tuesday, the Catamounts will have their hands full when they travel to Iowa City to take on the No. 23 Iowa Hawkeyes. For Iowa, the Catamounts are the first of what appears to be a series of easy tuneups before the Hawkeyes (8-2, 0-2 Big Ten) return to conference play.

After the Catamounts, Savannah State comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, followed by Bryant on Dec. 29. Last week Savannah State lost to South Dakota State 139-72.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said the Hawkeyes would not take their next three opponents lightly. But there are some specific goals and fundamentals he expects his team to work on.

"Consistent play at both ends of the floor," McCaffery told Hawkcentral.com. "Ball movement. Unselfishness. A mixture of jump shots and post feeds. Good transition defense. Good ball-screen defense. Good defense against their actions. And five guys working as one. Anything short of that in our league is problematic."

The Catamounts (3-9) average 70.7 points per game and give up 79.1 per game -- ranked 309th in the nation. They've lost four of their past five games, although one of those defeats was a double-overtime loss to No. 24 Furman.

That caught the attention of the Hawkeyes.

"We need to keep that same mental focus that we had in New York. Every team's going to give us their best shot," Iowa forward Luka Garza said. "We see a lot of teams going on the road and beating high majors. Like (Saturday), Syracuse goes down (to Old Dominion).

"It's happened a lot. So we're just going to make sure that's not us. We're going to lock down those wins and make sure we come out and treat them like it's Duke or it's Gonzaga."

Western Carolina last played Saturday and suffered an 86-59 loss at High Point. Onno Steger recorded a career-high 18 points for Western Carolina. Kameron Gibson finished in double figures for the seventh time this season with 17 points.

Carlos Dotson leads the Catamounts in scoring (13.3 points) and rebounds (9.0) and shoots 59.6 percent from the field. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Dotson could be a challenge for Iowa's big men -- Garza and Tyler Cook.

Dotson, a junior college transfer from Central Florida Community College, said the move to Western has been better than he ever imagined. Playing for head coach Mark Prosser has made him a better player and a better person, he said.

"It has gone well so far for me personally, but I would trade some of my big individual performances in losses for wins," he told midmajormadness.com.

"For the most part I was excited about the challenge with playing against quality big guys in Division I. The only way to make you better is to make your team better. They go together," he added.

He struggled last time out, scoring just four points against High Point. He'll get another chance to make his team better against the Hawkeyes, but it will be far from easy.

Iowa led by as many as 29 points in a 77-54 victory over Northern Iowa on Saturday. Garza finished with 17 points while Cook posted a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds.

"Cook is playing about as well as anybody in the country," Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson said. "There can't be but a handful of guys doing all that he does for their team."

Cook has scored in double figures in 52 of his 70 games, including 13 games of 20 points or more. He is averaging 14.3 points a game for his career and 16.6 points this season, along with 8.9 rebounds.

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