Women's Capital Classic: Tall task awaits Daniel, Marshall
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall women's basketball team faces what could be its toughest game of the season tonight at the Charleston Civic Center, when the Thundering Herd plays West Virginia at 7 p.m. in the Capital Classic.
It's likely the highest-profile game the Herd (4-3) has on the horizon. The Mountaineers (4-2) enter tonight's contest falling just out of the Associated Press top 25, sitting at the top of the "also receiving votes" list. The game will be broadcast across three TV stations (WPBY, WNPB and WSWP).
Marshall Coach Matt Daniel knows how tough it will be. The first-year coach also reminds his team this game is part of a longer process, one that he feels will put the program on more solid footing.
"(Tonight) is a tall, tall order for us," he said. "But we've got bigger issues than that. We've got bigger issues than one game, whether it's West Virginia or West Virginia State."
The Herd remains on a search for consistency in this young season. The team has yet to win consecutive regular-season games and has gone 1-1 in its two tournaments - the A&M Classic in College Station, Texas, and the EKU Comfort Suites Tournament, in Richmond, Ky.
Daniel said he'll stack up his team's field-goal percentage (41.6 percent from the floor, 35.3 percent from 3-point range) with many teams. They do stack up in Conference USA, where the Herd is the third-best shooting team from the floor and second-best from 3-point range. Yet the team has made the fewest free throws (63) in the conference and is one of just two C-USA teams with a negative turnover margin (minus-3.7).
"When we execute, on both sides of the ball, we're all right," he said. "When we don't, we're not very good. That doesn't have anything to do with what anyone else is doing. That has to do with leaving the huddle and executing the play call. We have to continue to grow."
Redshirt junior guard Erica Woods said it's been a process, learning Daniel's new schemes and philosophies. She said the team understands the transformation won't come overnight.
"Each day we go to practice and we try to get better and better, one possession at a time," she said. "We're still trying to come together as a team. We have good team chemistry. Each individual tries to help the next teammate."
The Mountaineers can be seen as the goal to reach. WVU has made the NCAA Tournament in five of the past six seasons, losing in the second round last season to Stanford. The team tied for second in the Big 12 preseason poll and is led by junior guards Taylor Palmer (11.0 points per game) and Christal Caldwell (10.3 ppg).
Opponents shoot just 37.1 percent from the floor against WVU, and Daniel said the team is built in the image of Coach Mike Carey.
"They're the personality of their head coach," he said, "which is an aggressive, hard-nosed style of basketball that tries to make it tough on you to score and ram it down your throat on the other end to get the ball in the basket."
Daniel said tonight's game will be a learning experience for his team, but he doesn't talk to his players about using the game as a barometer. There are other, more important things on which to focus. Still, the players are anxious to meet WVU in the 52nd game between the two programs. They know the caliber of opponent on the horizon.
"That means we have to go out and play at a higher level," Woods said. "It's exciting. You always hear about the bigger conference teams in the Big East or the ACC. It also allows you to see how you are as a player compared to them, and it's just another opportunity to prove yourself."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.