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WVU, Herd women's teams headed in opposite directions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One team enters today's Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic a work in progress. The other is simply showing a lot of progress.

Indeed, the disparity in experience between the West Virginia and Marshall women's basketball teams could well be a determining factor in the outcome of today's game, and coaches of both teams say as much.

Tip off is set for 1 p.m. at the Charleston Civic Center with the men slated for a 7:30 p.m. start.

The Mountaineers (7-1) have gotten off to a fine start this season, in large part to a roster that consists of five seniors and a rotation that tends to go nine or 10 players deep.

Compare that to the Thundering Herd (3-4) of coach Matt Daniel, who is dealing with a roster featuring 10 new players, including five freshmen.

Marshall will also be without leading rebounder Cukwuka Ezeigbo (7.4 per game), who traveled to Nigeria to be with her family after the death of her father. She is expected to miss around a month.

"The future is promising, but we're not anywhere close to where we want to be thus far," Daniel said. "I don't think our record reflects the type of team we are. It shows our inconsistencies with youth and new faces.

"But I like our team, I love our team. The payoff will come. I don't know when that will be. It could be [today], it could be in conference play, or it could be five years from now."

West Virginia coach Mike Carey thinks that payoff could be coming soon, especially if his team doesn't show up ready to play today.

"He's got them playing hard and that's key," Carey said. "They're listening, they're running a lot of sets, so that means they're disciplined. You can throw the records out the window. They're going to play hard and we're going to have to play well."

That's exactly what the Mountaineers have done with the exception of a 70-61 loss to Ohio State early in the season in which WVU shot just 30.9 percent from the floor.

Otherwise, West Virginia has flashed the kind of defense and balance that could have it poised for a long postseason run.

After a knee injury put her out before last season even started, West Virginia senior Asya Bussie was granted a medical redshirt and is back to her old self, averaging 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

Bussie is joined in double-figure scoring by three perimeter players - senior Christal Caldwell (15.5), sophomore Bria Holmes (13.0) and senior Taylor Palmer (12.8). The trio has combined to hit 40 of WVU's 50 3-pointers this season.

In all, the Mountaineers have nine players averaging over 15 minutes per game.

"We're pretty deep," Carey said. "I've got nine or 10 kids I'm very comfortable with putting in there. We've got four girls averaging double-figures, and we'd like to get it to at least five or six.

"We've got five seniors that have been in our system for four years and they understand what we're looking for on the defensive end. We emphasize defense, we emphasize balance and balancing the floor, and we emphasize good shot selection."

Though West Virginia came into last year's meeting ranked in the top 25, Daniel said this year's Mountaineer squad looks even better on film.

"The game [today] will be a real big test," Daniel said. "They look really, really, really, really, really good - a lot better than they were last year.

"They're really athletic, they pound the ball inside, and they sit down and guard you. They play the game the way it's supposed to be played. They're physical and athletic the way you're supposed to be on our level."

As for the Herd, two of its three wins have come against below-Division I opponents (Bluefield College, WVU Tech), but they also had a stretch in mid-November in which they lost games to Morehead State and Indiana State by a combined three points.

Junior Leah Scott leads the Herd in scoring at 12 points per game.

Both coaches went out of their way to downplay the rivalry tag, pointing only to the game and none of the hype around it.

"Personally, it's another game that we've got to play where we're going in trying to win," Carey said. "With Marshall being in the same state, everyone tries to make it into a rivalry game. I like their coaching staff and they have good kids and as far as anything above and beyond that, I don't see anything."

"It's almost a forced rivalry," Daniel said. "Anytime you play an in-state team that you're going to play every year, people tend to get a little more geared up. It's going to be a tough test for us regardless."

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.


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