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The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's last men's basketball trip to Cullowhee, N.C., resulted in one of the team's worst performances of the 2015-16 season and a six-point loss.

The season before, the Mocs lost by three.

Western Carolina definitely has the Mocs' full focus, but that's more because it's their next game than because of the prior results.

UTC opens the Southern Conference part of its season at 2 p.m. today against the Catamounts at the Ramsey Center in Cullowhee. From there the Mocs will travel to Greensboro, N.C., for a game Monday against the UNC Greensboro Spartans.

"They are both difficult places to play against good teams," UTC coach Matt McCall said before Friday's practice. "I think you look at how hard Western plays, and every year they're the same team. They get better as the year goes, and it's going to be a big challenge for us. It's a great challenge to start the league. Last year we started off on the road (at The Citadel); this year we have the first two.

"It's a huge weekend for us, but we're going to take it one possession at a time and get off to a good start."

The Catamounts are 5-8, having had to do a lot of mixing and matching after losing four senior starters from last season. They've tried eight different starting lineups, with only two of those combinations used more than once.

Guard Ashley Williams started the season on the injury list but has played the last four games and leads the Catamounts with 11.3 points per game. He's been replaced on that injury list by junior Deriece Parks, who tore his ACL and is expected to miss the rest of the season.

"We're excited," UTC senior guard Tre' McLean said. "We had a great nonconference and we continue to grow as a team and as a program. This is an exciting time of year right here.

"We can't think about our past outcomes against these teams; we can't let that determine how we come out on Saturday. We all know that Western is pretty tough-minded and we have a lot of respect for them, so we're just going to focus with the same mentality we've had for every game this season."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.

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