Marshall's Erica Woods drives to the hoop against West Virginia's Averee Fields and Linda Stepney.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Prior to the Capital Classic, West Virginia had ridden its stingy defense and balanced scoring to a solid 7-1 record. Saturday, that train kept chugging along.The Mountaineers limited Marshall to just 30.4 percent shooting and held the Herd without an assist until well into the second half, while six Mountaineers scored eight points or more in an 82-51 win in front of a crowd of 1,565 at the Charleston Civic Center.West Virginia used a 30-5 run that spanned much of the first half to break an 8-8 tie, continued that momentum in building a 44-22 lead at halftime, and cruised to the win."The first eight minutes, we came out and played extremely hard defensively," West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. "That's what we do, we play hard defensively and then we get our offense going."Against Marshall, WVU's offense seemed to be rolling from the outset as Taylor Palmer and Christal Caldwell knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to open the game. Palmer went on to hit 4 3-pointers as part of a 10-for-20 team effort.Then there was 6-foot-4 Asya Bussie on the inside, who redirected Marshall drives and shots all game long while finding open shooters and doing scoring damage of her own. She finished with 16 points to go with five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals in earning the game's MVP honors."It's great," Bussie said. "Even just getting the ball and doing something with it ... I've been struggling the last couple games, so it was a great feeling."To speak to the balance of the Mountaineers (8-1), Palmer and Bria Holmes, who had missed the previous two games with a concussion, also each had 16 points to lead all scorers.WVU's long, athletic guards, along with Bussie on the inside, held down the Herd's leading scorer, Leah Scott, who had just five points and was scoreless in the first half.
The Herd (3-5) was hurt even worse by the absence of starting center Chukwuka Ezeigbo, who was in Nigeria for the funeral of her father. Without their center, Marshall was outrebounded 53-27 and WVU won the second-chance-points battle 15-4."I think that West Virginia has the potential to be a Sweet 16 team," Marshall coach Matt Daniel said. "They are athletic, big and have all the tools and a huge part of that is the experience. They're a senior-laden team and they've been through the wars together."I wouldn't be surprised if they won the Big 12 ... They're as good of a team as I've seen. I haven't seen everybody play, I haven't seen UConn play, I haven't seen Stanford play, I haven't seen Tennessee play, but what I've seen flipping through channels, they're as good of a team as I've seen." If the Mountaineers do go on to reach lofty heights, a big reason will be Bussie and the offense that runs through her.It sometimes resembles Dwight Howard's old Orlando Magic teams, in that she can usually get the best of a 1-on-1 situation or find an open 3-point shooter if the defense collapses around her and, as they proved on Saturday, West Virginia has plenty of those."We're where we need to be right now," Carey said. "Do we have a long way to go? Absolutely. We have a long way to go.
"But I like the chemistry. I like the players. The players are great young ladies, they all get along well and we're 10 deep. That's great to be 10 deep. I think we're deeper this year than we've ever been, and it's really nice to have Asya Bussie." Norrisha Victrum hit a trio of 3-pointers and led Marshall with 13 points and Erica Woods added 11.The win gives WVU a 37-16 advantage in the all-time series. The Mountaineers have won nine in a row, dating back to an 82-76 Marshall win in 2005.Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt