Herd women host Hilltoppers
HUNTINGTON — Last weekend, Marshall University’s women’s basketball team did something it had never done before when the Thundering Herd topped Middle Tennessee, marking its first win ever against the the Blue Raiders.
Marshall once again is looking to knock off a team it has never beaten in the regular season when it plays host to Western Kentucky at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cam Henderson Center. Marshall’s lone win against the Hilltoppers was in the 2016 Conference USA Tournament semifinals.
Western Kentucky comes into the contest owning an 11-1 advantage in the series history, but a win for Marshall would feel every bit as big as that 2016 game.
Both Marshall and Western Kentucky are vying for position in the C-USA standings and are within range of receiving one of the top four seeds that would mean a bye in the first round of the C-USA Tournament.
In addition to what’s at stake, it is also Marshall’s annual “Think Pink” game as part of the Play4Kay movement raising awareness for cancer research.
“I think our kids are going to be excited to play, so we have to handle that emotion,” Marshall head coach Tony Kemper said. “It is our ‘Think Pink’ game, so I think there will be a good atmosphere here. We’re trying to earn respect again against a really good basketball team. They are a traditional power and they know how to win.”
Western Kentucky (14-13, 8-5 C-USA) handed Marshall its worst loss of the season Jan. 12 when the Hilltoppers earned an 85-55 win at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky.
That game seemed to bring Marshall’s team together, however, as the Herd won six of its next seven games to firmly put itself among the top teams in C-USA.
In its last high-profile matchup at home (Feb. 9) Marshall took Rice — the conference first-place team at 13-0 and ranked No. 25 in the nation — to the wire.
Kemper hopes his team draws on that experience Saturday.
“We have to handle the emotion of it with a high level of execution,” Kemper said. “In a big game like this, that’s the key. A couple of weeks ago against Rice, we had the emotion, but we didn’t have the execution to beat a team at that level. We have to have both if we are going to get it done.”
Execution plagued Marshall in the earlier loss to Western Kentucky when the Hilltoppers forced Marshall into 20 turnovers and turned them into 30 points. By comparison, the Hilltoppers had just eight turnovers.
Western Kentucky comes into Huntington with C-USA’s top scoring offense (74.2 points per game) and two of the league’s top five scorers in Dee Givens (17.7 points) and Raneem Elgedawy (16.1 points, 7.5 rebounds).
“Dee Givens has been fantastic, I feel like, against us her entire career,” Kemper said. “She had 26 in here last year in the game we played against them. She’s a fantastic player — a senior and a leader.”
Marshall’s Shayna Gore (19.5 average) and Taylor Porter (12.1) get much of the credit as scoring leaders on the team, but it is the versatility of undersized players such as Khadaijia Brooks (8.6 points, 6.2 rebounds) and Taylor Pearson (5.4 points, 5.3 rebounds) that has made a difference.
The 5-foot-10 Brooks and 5-7 Pearson overcome their size issues playing in the post with mental toughness and basketball I.Q., Kemper said.
“This group has put together a string of games that have been strong, and that comes from them coming together and figuring out how this group was going to win,” he said. “When the ball is tipped up, we are giving up six or eight inches out there, but they’ve found ways to persevere through that. I’m proud of them for that.”
WESTERN KENTUCKY (14-13, 8-5) AT MARSHALL (15-11, 9-4)
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Cam Henderson Center, Huntington
RADIO: WMUL 88.1-FM
TICKETS: Adults $5, Children $3, Anyone wearing pink $1