by Tyler Norris Goode
There was the 48-point loss at 13th-ranked Indiana, the 35-point scoring total against Illinois and the narrow victory over Division I newcomer Presbyterian.
But there have also been signs of hope, particularly in a two-point loss to College of Charleston last month and a surprisingly strong showing last Saturday against N.C. State.
Sophomore Brandon Giles, who had not scored more than 19 points in a college game before December, lit up Charleston for 32 points and dropped 25 during the 74-62 loss to the Wolfpack.
Performances like those give WCU coach Larry Hunter hope that his team can still be a factor in the SoCon without Aldridge, who quit the team in late November.
The Catamounts (4-8, 0-2) resume league play this week at Furman
(7 tonight) and Davidson (7 p.m. Saturday).
“We are gaining confidence,” Hunter said. “People may lose perspective that we’re asking young players to carry important roles for us. We’ve been inconsistent, but that’s because of our youth.”
Overall, WCU’s point production is down nearly 11 points (from 71.4 to 60.9 ppg) since Aldridge played his last game with the Cats on Nov. 20.
Epitomizing the Cats’ hills and valleys since then has been Giles.
The sophomore managed just 10 points against Division I newcomer N.C. Central and was shut out at Indiana, but he’s scoring nearly twice as many points a game since Aldridge left (from 8.4 ppg to 15.9).
Giles had 16 first-half points against N.C. State as WCU led for the first 28 minutes and was within a point with 3:42 remaining.
“Our mental toughness has been up and down each game,” said Giles. “One game we’ll be tough, and the next we’ll be soft with the ball and on defense. We need to go into each and every game with the mind-set we had going into N.C. State.”
Another player who has given the Cats a scoring boost is Arnold Gore, who is averaging 6.3 points a game since Aldridge left. Gore scored a total of 11 points in the Cats’ first five games.
The Cats’ most steady player has been Michael Porrini, who’s averaged between 12 and 13 points for most of the season.
“In high school, I was more of a leader and scorer on my team,” said Porrini, whose scoring average is currently 12.6. “I’ve tried to keep the same mentality after Nick left. I have to distribute while still scoring. I believe our team play since then has gotten even better. We’re looking to pass and score, we’re being unselfish, we’re playing defense and we’re hustling.”