Women's Capital Classic: Herd coach has high praise for WVU
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's 82-51 women's basketball victory over Marshall in the Capital Classic on Saturday was the Mountaineers' eighth consecutive win this season and ninth straight in the series against the Thundering Herd.
Marshall Coach Matt Daniel has been on the losing bench twice in the series and said not only was this year's WVU team better than the one he faced in 2012, but has the potential to make noise in the NCAA Tournament.
"I think that West Virginia has the potential to be a Sweet 16 team," Daniel said. "I told Mike (Carey) that before the game. They are athletic and big and have all the tools. A huge part of that is the experience. They're a senior-laden team and they've been through the wars together and been around him and his dynamic personality and the grind of every day. They get him on a daily basis."
Getting to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament would require two wins in the NCAA Tournament, something no WVU women's basketball team has done in the Mountaineers' nine appearances.
WEST VIRGINIA got a welcome surprise Saturday with the play of sophomore guard Bria Holmes, who had missed WVU's previous two contests with a concussion.
Holmes came off the bench to score 16 points for the Mountaineers one day after returning to practice.
"It was good to get Bria Holmes back," Carey said. "Bria Holmes had a concussion and didn't play the last two games, this is the first game back. She practiced yesterday and I didn't know how much I was going to play her but she looked pretty good for having just come back."
Also making a return, of sorts, was Asya Bussie. The Mountaineers' senior center missed last season with a knee injury and returned to the Capital Classic with a 16-point, five-rebound performance against Marshall.
"We got her the ball a little bit more even though they were sagging and not playing a couple of people," Carey said. "I thought she moved well inside and our girls looked for her. That's a good sign there."
Carey said he and his team were used to seeing opponents make concessions to defend Bussie, but added that he did not expect to see nearly as much of that tactic when WVU begins Big 12 play.
"I don't think we'll see a lot of that going Big 12 because, quite frankly, the Big 12 thinks they have as good a post as Asya Bussie," he said. "So they don't think they need to double and do all that stuff as much as some of these teams are doing."
ONLY ONE player from the state of West Virginia made it on the floor during the women's game Saturday in the annual contest between the state's two Division I programs.
Marshall freshman guard and former Princeton High School star McKenzie Akers did not score against WVU, but did play 14 minutes.
"It was awesome," Akers said. "I was thankful for the opportunity and it was a really fun game. It was awesome to be able to play out there. West Virginia is a really, really good team this year. They're definitely going to make it far in the tournament, I think."
Akers, the Class AAA All-State first team captain in 2012-2013, was making her return to the Charleston Civic Center after leading Princeton to the State Tournament quarterfinals as a senior. The Tigers lost 77-67 to eventual runner-up Logan, making Akers' return bittersweet.
"It didn't turn out too good," she said. "I was trying to redeem myself to come back here. It brought back bad memories but also good memories. It was awesome to get to play out here today."
MARSHALL WAS without junior center Chukwuka Ezeigbo, who missed the game to go to Nigeria after her father died late last week.
Ezeigbo was averaging 7.3 points and 7.4 rebounds in 25.4 minutes per game for the Thundering Herd.
"She's with her family in Nigeria," Daniel said. "Her father passed away and they have a culture over there where we're going to be without her for about 17 days. Today was the first game without her and yesterday was our first game without her."
Contact sportswriter Tom Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports.