WVU Women Bounce MU

In the opening game of the Toyota Capital Classic in Charleston, it was the same story with a different ending. The West Virginia women's basketball team played arguably their worst game of the season while at the same time pulling out a 67-63 victory over Marshall, bringing a disastrous two weeks in which they went 0-4 to a close.

This evening's game started out much like the Virginia Tech loss this past Saturday. The Mountaineers jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead on the Thundering Herd, off the surprisingly hot shooting of Sherell Sowho, who buried a pair of three pointers in the first four minutes. It looked as if the Mountaineers, who were 10-0 in non-conference play coming into tonight's match, would have another easy game with a much smaller, overmatched opponent (Marshall entered the game with a 5-9 record, 0-4 against opponents from major conferences). Instead, it turned into a game very typical of the four-game losing streak.

Trailing 10-2, Marshall took advantage of poor Mountaineer rebounding, burying countless second-chance shots and even grabbing some turnovers to go on a 20-3 run over the next 10 minutes. Simply put, the Herd fought harder for the basketball. West Virginia was caught napping under the basket, and when they weren't, they were already headed for the other end of the floor when the shot was put in the air. The result was a 26-18 rebounding edge for the green coeds at halftime - there was a load of black & green jerseys in the paint whenever a shot went up, and maybe one gold jersey to provide a little contrast, allowing Marshall 11 second-chance points. The Herd racked up 15 offensive boards in the opening period.

Michelle Carter, held scoreless for 15 minutes, finally found herself with 5:40 left in the half, after a multitude of substitutions by Mike Carey. Two points from Carter at that point provided the Mountaineers a little break in the Marshall onslaught, closing the score to 22-15. From that point, West Virginia, led by Yolanda Paige and a physically struggling Liz Holbrook, outscored Marshall 11-4 to tie the score at 26 at halftime.

The halftime stats weren't pretty, for either team. West Virginia took one less shot and made one less shot than Marshall. The Mountaineers shot a dismal 8-28 from the field. The stats that made the difference were, of course, the rebounding as I mentioned, turnovers (Marshall gave the ball away 12 times to West Virginia's seven), and three-point shooting. Marshall couldn't hit a three-pointer, they only attempted one before the half, while Sowho nailed a pair.

The second half saw an adjustment on defense by Mike Carey that helped West Virginia move ahead. The Mountaineers continued their full court press against Marshall's shaky ball handling, then switched from their traditional man defense to a zone in the half court. This allowed Marshall to take their outside shots if they wanted them (they didn't want to - they're not exactly a hot-shooting team), while WVU bunched up the inside and slowed down the Herd's rebounding machine.

Something else happened as well: West Virginia went on the attack on offense. The Mountaineers went straight at the Herd on the inside and outside. The result was a team that was hard to slow down - West Virginia was able to take advantage of buckets on offense (and at the line) and turn them into pressure defense, forcing Marshall into more turnovers amd more missed shots. The Mountaineers finally took a double-digit lead at 8:35, leading 48-37. The lead stretched to 50-37 when Sowho scored a bucket at 7:42.

50-37 would be the largest lead of the game. Marshall was pesky from there, and the Herd started to rebound again. The score was closed to 54-47, but Sowho hit her fifth three of the game to move the gap back to ten. Carter tossed in a bucket to expand the lead back to 12 with less than three minutes to go. But then, Marshall hit seven straight points to close to 59-54 with 1:00 left. West Virginia couldn't hit their free throws, and continued to let the Herd get second chances on the other end. But, fortunately, 67-63 was as close as it would get.

The bottom line of this game was rebounding. Marshall finished the game with a 51-35 edge on the boards. If West Virginia had ever come out of its two week hibernation on the inside tonight, this game probably would have been a 20+ point blowout - Marshall should have never been in this game.

Offensively, West Virginia had a decent night. Sherell Sowho broke out of her slump, big time. Sowho shot a blazing 9-10 from the field, including 5-6 from beyond the arc for 24 points. Kate Bulger, keyed on by the Herd, had an off night managing ten points on 3-14 shooting, with no three-pointers. Michelle Carter scored ten, eight in the second half, on 4-8 shooting. Yolanda Paige wound out the Mountaineers in double-figures with ten. Liz Holbrook scored eight, Janell Dunlap three, Eartha White two, and Grace Carson had one.

Marshall was led by Sikeetha Shepard-Hall, who scored 25.

West Virginia improves to 11-4 and scores its first undefeated record in non-conference play in program history at 11-0. Marshall falls to 5-10.

Clearly, West Virginia has some work to do before heading out for Saturday's match at big, bad Boston College. The Mountaineers have never defeated the Eagles, and won't stand much chance if they aren't able to get to work early and often on the inside, scoring points and grabbing rebounds to open up Kate Bulger and Sowho outside.

This evening, it was different - the Herd didn't have the manpower to cover both Bulger and Sowho, but, as has been shown in the past four Big East losses, it's almost certain that the Eagles will. It should help that Liz Holbrook had a productive game this evening and continues to heal, but the key will be getting Michelle Carter involved in a positive way early. I certainly do expect West Virginia to play up to their competition as they have in the past two weeks, but hopefully the inside will open up and they'll be able to do so much more. Saturday's game in Boston starts at 7:00pm.

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