Marshall Arrives For Great Alaska Shootout

Marshall left Huntington, W.Va. at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 20 and arrived in Anchorage, Alaska at 4:00 a.m. EST Tuesday, weary but ready to get started for Thanksgiving night's meeting with the University of California Bears. The two teams meet in the Great Alaska Shootout at 11:59 p.m. Thursday night on ESPN2 & the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network (WRVC 930 AM/WDGG 93.7 FM).

The Herd is looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss on Saturday night at the Cam Henderson Center, a 73-69 loss to Robert Morris. Marshall led by 15 points with 9:58 to play and was still up ten with five minutes left in the game. Poor free-throw shooting and poor three-point shooting, something the Herd overcame in an overtime 82-80 opening win over UNC Greensboro, reared its head again as Marshall shot only 13 percent from three (3-for-24) and 51 percent (18-of-35) from the line, including missing ten of its first 11 chances.

Taurean Marshall guarded Chris Ross during Marshall University's first practice at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska on Tuesday, November 21, 2006. photo by Greg Perry/Herd Insider staff.

At the Great Alaska Shootout, Marshall is staying at the historic Captain Cook Inn in Anchorage, along with the women's team from the Air Force Academy and the men's team from Hawaii and Hofstra, each of whom Marshall might face in the second day of games. The winner of the Marshall-Cal game will play the winner of the Hawaii-Hofstra game and vice versa for the losers. Teams will all play three games in the exempt tournament, which counts as only one game towards a team's non-conference schedule.

The Herd team, on the 20th birthday of sophomore forward Markel Humphrey, braved the 10 degree temps to visit the Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood, Alaska, just outside of Anchorage, on Tuesday morning. The team accended to approximately 3,000 feet in the ski resort's gondola to have lunch at the top of the slopes and record a team picture in front of the breath-taking scenery of the surrounding Chucagh Mountains.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Marshall University contingent toured Alyeska Ski Resort, just outside of Anchorage. The team witnessed beautiful scenery and single-digit temps, in addition to about 8" of snowfall. photo by Greg Perry/Herd Insider staff.

"We try to make the trip part of the student-athlete's college education," said MU head coach Ron Jirsa. "The players get a chance to visit Alaska, to see a state many of them might not get to otherwise. We're here to represent Marshall, enjoy Alaska but play hard and well." The team is able to view the Cook Inlet of the Gulf of Alaska (of the Pacific Ocean) a mostly frozen bay that surrounds Anchorage. In fact, the water line is only two blocks from the Captain Cook Inn and Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America, is just out of town and can be seen to the north. A highlight of the morning trip was the sighting of a number of Dalls Sheep, a mountain goat that populates Alaska. The animals walked with ease, 500-to-1,000 feet in the air above the Gold Rush Highway, on the sharp ridges cut into the mountains for first the railroad at the turn of the 20th Century and, then more recently, the highway, one of two that serves the over 200,000 residents of Anchorage.

In California, who was 20-10 last season and 12-6 in the Pac 10 Conference, Marshall faces a team that returns three starters including 6-foot-4 senior guard Ayinde Ubaka, who averaged 15 points and four assists per game last year. Also back is 6-foot-4 guard Omar Wilkes (7.6 ppg, 45 percent from three), the son of former NBA great Jamaal Wilkes, and 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Theo Robinson (6.0 ppg, 47 percent field goals, 41 percent from three). Robinson started eight games last year. The anchor of the team is 6-foot-11 junior forward DeVon White (7.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 50 percent from the floor). He is called by Blue Ribbon Magazine "a legitimate threat to average a double-double this season."

Also in the mix to start is 6-foot-11 sophomore center Jordan Wilkes (2.1 ppg, 1.1 rpg) and 6-foot-7 junior forward Eric Vierneisel (1.5 ppg, 0.9 rpg). Head Coach Ben Braun (186-121 10 years at Cal/519-356 29 years) Bears' have averaged 18 wins per year the last five seasons, but lost forward Leon Powe (20.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg-one of only five players all-time to lead the Pac 10 in points and rebounds in a season) to the Boston Celtics of the NBA. Braun has led Cal to an upper division finish in seven of the ten years he has coached the Bears. But most observers look for the 2-1 Cal team, with wins over Utah Valley State and Santa Clara at home and a loss at 5-0 San Diego State, to be a .500 team this season with a shot at the NIT.

"They are a talented team, coming off a good win against Santa Clara," said Jirsa of the Bears. "They have the momentum coming to Alaska. It's a tough opener, but we have had three great days of practice (since the loss to Robert Morris). We are glad to be playing on ESPN2 and we want to play well and win on ESPN2." Jirsa is hoping his team has addressed some of its early season woes in the last few days of practice. "We are going to continue to work on being effective at the foul line," said Jirsa, "and to understand what a good three-point shot is. We had eight lay-ups in the second half against Robert Morris and we have to add good outside shooting to that. We have to be up-tempo, but disciplined in the half-court game. If we don't get the steal, get the stop, then shoot with more discipline on the other end."

Junior Travis Aikens has led the Herd in scoring so far this season, averaging 19.5 points per game and recording his second-career double-double in the opener. But Aikens is 0-for-9 from three and the team is just 8-of-49, 16 percent. Humphrey is averaging 13.5 ppg, junior Mark Dorris is at 12 ppg and senior point guard Chris Ross is at 11 ppg. Aikens and Humphrey lead the Herd with nine rebounds per game, while junior center Jean Francois Bro Grebe is averaging 7.5 rebounds and two blocks per game to go with a five point average.

Airtime in Huntington Thanksgiving night is 11:00 p.m. on WRVC 930 AM and WDGG "The Dawg" 93.7 FM. Tipoff is right at Midnight on the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network, with Vince Payne on the play-by-play again with Steve Cotton traveling to Southern Miss with the MU football team on Saturday (a 5:30 p.m. EST air time and a 7:30 p.m. kickoff for CSTV). The Herd will play either 6:00 p.m. or 11:59 p.m. on Friday (EST) in the Great Alaska Shootout, depending on winning or losing game one. Saturday's game times are TBA and unless the Herd is in the championship game (a 1:00 a.m. EST Sunday tip-off, 9 p.m. AST), the game will air only on WRVC 930 AM in Huntington, while football airs on "The Dawg, 93.7 FM" and the ISP Network, with live call-ins from the Great Alaska Shootout.

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