It's been a Cinderella-like season for Marshall.
After posting one of the worst records in the program's history last year, the Thundering Herd is off to its best start in more than two decades.
Marshall (12-4) would like nothing more than to crash West Virginia University's ball in the Capital City when the in-state rivals meet at 7 tonight in the annual Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic at the Civic Center. This year is the first time in the series the women's game gets a separate date from the men's contest, which is Wednesday.
The Mountaineers have danced all over the Thundering Herd the past several years, winning the last six matchups and nine of the last 10. Marshall reached the low point in the series last year when it suffered a 78-21 meltdown. The Herd last defeated the Mountaineers 82-76 on Jan. 11, 2005.
There were times last season when Marshall coach Royce Chadwick barely had enough players to suit up after injuries decimated the team.
"We were down to six or seven players,'' the Herd's 11th-year coach said. "That was the first time I had that happen. I looked down the bench and I really didn't have anybody to put in.
"We had every injury known and so far this year we've been able to avoid the injury bug and able to play a multitude of different sets and numbers and they've all contributed.''
Marshall is off to its best start since the 1986-87 season with a roster of 11 newcomers and only seven returning letter-winners.
The Herd is third in Conference USA after getting picked last in the 12-team preseason rankings. Marshall just saw its five-game winning streak snapped Sunday as it suffered its first conference loss, a 55-53 setback to SMU at the Cam Henderson Center.
"We felt like we had the talent to make some things happen,'' said Chadwick, whose team has won 11 of its last 13. "We felt if we stayed healthy, we could win some basketball games.''
The Herd has no player averaging double figures and nearly 53 percent of its offensive production comes from the bench.
Jasmine Shaw, a 5-foot-6 sophomore guard, leads Marshall in scoring at 8.0 points per game average despite never starting.
Herd 5-6 senior guard Lateidra Elliott adds 7.2 points also off the bench and leads C-USA in 3-point field goal percentage (48.6 percent). Marshall 5-9 sophomore forward Erica Woods contributes 7.2 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds.
WVU has also exceeded expectations this season with only one starter returning.
The Mountaineers are in the upper half of the Big East standings with three sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup. WVU, which earned one vote in last week's ESPN-USA Today poll, is ranked fifth nationally in team defense (48.0 points per game) and ninth in rebounding margin (11.7).
WVU's Taylor Palmer, a 5-9 sophomore guard, averages 13.5 points, while junior 6-4 center Asya Bussie adds 12.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Mountaineers 5-9 sophomore guard Christal Caldwell chips in 9.9 points and 6.2 rebounds and junior 6-3 center Ayana Dunning contributes 7.6 points and a team-best 7.6 rebounds.
The Mountaineers dropped their last game, a 51-48 loss at Providence.
"We can't go in there without our 'A' game,'' said Chadwick of facing WVU.
"We're going to have to try and set the tempo and be prepared to do the things we do well. We'll have to defend them with a team scheme and try and slow them down. We don't have players where we can match up one-on-one and say, 'We'll show you what we can do.'''
WVU coach Mike Carey did not immediately return phone calls Monday evening.
WVU leads Marshall 34-16 in the all-time series, which has been played 50 times . . . The Mountaineers have posted a 14-6 record in the Civic Center . . . Marshall's 1986-87 squad started the season with a 17-4 mark . . . Carey, who reached 500 career wins in December, owns a 9-1 record against Marshall . . . The Mountaineers will unveil a new black uniform. WVU has worn five other uniform color schemes this season: navy, gold, white and pink (home and away) . . . Marshall averages 11.9 steals per game, which is second in C-USA, and has not allowed an opponent to shoot 50 percent . . . The game will be telecast on the West Virginia Public Broadcasting System and carried on the radio at 680-AM and 95.3-FM WKAZ in the Charleston area.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tonight's probable starting lineups
WEST VIRGINIA (12-5)
No - Player Pos Hgt Cls Pts Reb Ast
1 - Christal Caldwell G 5-9 So. 9.9 6.2 1.2
2 - Taylor Palmer G 5-9 So. 13.5 3.1 1.1
14 - Jess Harlee F 6-1 So. 6.1 6.2 2.4
20 - Asya Bussie C 6-4 Jr. 12.9 6.7 2.5
22- Linda Stepney G 5-7 Fr. 4.3 2.1 3.0
No - Player Pos Hgt Cls Pts Reb Ast
1 - Victoria Wells G-F 5-10 Fr. 5.4 2.9 0.9
3 - Rashedah Henriques G 5-8 Sr. 4.0 3.0 1.1
5 - Alaya Mitchell G 5-5 Sr. 3.5 1.8 2.4
15 - Erica Woods F 5-9 So. 7.2 6.5 1.2
44 - Alyse Poindexter F 6-1 Jr. 5.9 5.2 0.1