BOGACZYK: Akers, Herd Really in the Pink ... Finally|
Feb. 8, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall women's basketball team was in the pink on Saturday.
That's more than a reference to the color of shoes the Thundering Herd wore on Breast Cancer Awareness Day at the Henderson Center.
Coach Matt Daniel's club stopped its eight-game losing streak and decisively got its first Conference USA victory of the season, rolling past Louisiana Tech, 69-55.
"Finally," said freshman shooting guard McKenzie Akers, whose career-high 18 points led Marshall. "Oh, my gosh, I'm so happy we got a W. It's about time. We badly needed that as a team. Maybe we can come out now and get a streak going."
So, will the Herd (8-14, 1-8) don those pink Nikes again Wednesday night, when it travels to Southern Miss?
"I sure hope so," Akers said. "If we're going to play like we did, I hope so."
The coach concurred.
"Sure, we will," Daniel said. "No reason not to."
The Lady Techsters (7-15, 2-7), a 16-time Final Four program coached by women's basketball legend Teresa Weatherspoon, were ripe to be the Herd's first C-USA victim.
Tech is 0-11 on the road this season, and other than star junior Whitney Frazier's career-high 26 points to go with 11 rebounds, the visitors had few answers.
Marshall spread things around. With Akers playing Ms. Outside - she hit four of the Herd's five 3-pointers - Tech couldn't cope inside with Daniel's alternating post players, Chukwuka Ezeigbo and Chelsey Romero.
Romero, a true freshman like Akers, had a Herd season-high 15 rebounds. Ezeigbo, a junior, had a double-double of matching 10s - her fourth career double-double. The pair combined for 17 points, 25 rebounds and six blocks. Marshall's 17 offensive boards were five above the season average.
Junior forward Leah Scott came off Daniel's bench and mostly slashed her way to 17 Herd points, too.
After a 6-for-12 day, the 5-foot-5 Akers admitted she was feeling the frustration not only of defeat, but of her recent performances. In her previous four games, the shooter from Princeton went a combined 1-of-18 from the floor.
"When you're young, confidence is fleeting a little bit," Daniel said of Akers. "She stepped up and played big today, but we were big all over the floor."
Akers' regained confidence was reflected in a different number. Akers' 12 field goal tries also was her season high.
"Thank the Lord," Akers said when asked about hitting three 3-pointers in the first 8:30 of the second half, the last of those extending MU's lead to 47-29. "I said to myself, `I've got to get myself out of it.
"I'm usually in the gym every day. I've been in there a whole lot, in a slump, not helping my team as much as I want, or I needed to. I was getting up more shots to try and get my shot back.
"I try to make 100 threes a day and work on my midrange and free throws. But the main thing is making 100 threes."
The Herd shot only 31 percent (11-of-35) in the second half, but its floating, 2-3 zone had the Techsters struggling. Frazier was 11-of-21. The rest of Weatherspoon's team was 10-for-50 on a 29.6 percent day. Among the Herd's 19 Division I foes, only Delaware State (28.3) shot a lower percentage, in MU's 62-47 Henderson Center win on Dec. 21.
Marshall's eight steals contributed to Tech's 19 turnovers and eight blocks was a Herd season high against Division I opposition.
And while the Herd remains in last place in C-USA - one game behind the Lady Techsters and two other clubs - Akers said perhaps said a confidence-building triumph is what the Herd needed most.
"We were ranked 16th (last in the C-USA coaches' preseason poll) and that was so much motivation for all of us," Akers said. "We're all used to winning, coming from teams that have had success. It's hard when you've been on winning teams and you lose. For us to be picked last, that's real motivation. Maybe this win will give us some confidence, maybe we can start something."
The Herd performed in this game a lot like the breast cancer awareness message on the players' warmup shirts and coaches' sideline attire: UNITED WE FIGHT.
"Just try to have fun with it," Akers answered when asked how she and the Herd need to keep their heads after building a 21-6 lead after 10 minutes. "We knew we were capable of winning this game, so we needed to play not so nervous.
"I get so nervous as a freshman; this was just stay cool. The difference for me is the speed and how fast-paced the game is. And obviously have to get my shot off quickly, and plus I can't take it inside on those big girls anytime I want to, because I got blocked a few times. But that's a part of learning the game.
"It's different. It's a whole different playing field compared to high school. You have to learn. You have to learn how to win, too. It's an adjustment and it was a really good day for us. I'm so happy we got the win."