Dec. 3, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - Matt Daniel considered the question, albeit only for a few seconds.
Asked about the Capital Classic in-state rivalry game with West Virginia, the first-year Marshall women's basketball coach was succinct.
"It's not a rivalry ... yet," Daniel said.
The Thundering Herd (4-3), coming off a split in a two-day event for a second straight weekend, face the 25th-ranked Mountaineers (4-2) in a Charleston Civic Center tipoff at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The men's teams meet the following night at 7:30.
Daniel, hired at Marshall in May after taking the Central Arkansas program into Division I and then turning around the Sugar Bears from 6-23 in his first season to 24-7 last winter, said he didn't face any game like the WVU matchup in his four UCA seasons.
"We couldn't get anybody like that (a state rivalry)," Daniel said. "Arkansas didn't play the other state schools. We had big games. We played Indiana at home and Alabama at home, but none exactly like this."
While the Capital Classic has been played in the second semester of the season (mostly in mid- to late January), it is a December game for the first time since 1996-97. Daniel wishes it were later in the season - and his desires have nothing to do with interrupting Conference USA play.
It's about trying to build a program in its infancy. WVU has won seven straight in the series.
"I do think it will be good for everybody to experience it for the first time, this team together, our staff, me," Daniel said. "Obviously, I think it's a tall, tall order, considering how long Coach (Mike) Carey's been there and the program that he's established.
"That's undoubtedly a top 25 team, and you compare that to where we are in the process. But I think it will be a great learning experience for us. I hope our kids can respond in that kind of environment, and hope they understand what the game is moving forward.
"Our approach won't change. Every game is Marshall versus West Virginia to me, but it will be interesting to see how our kids respond."
The Herd finished third in the EKU Comfort Suites Tournament at Eastern Kentucky over the weekend, falling to Jackson State and defeating Presbyterian in the consolation game Saturday. Sophomore shooting guard Shay Weaver hit five 3-pointers in each of those games and is averaging 12.7 points per game.
"She's not going to quit shooting," Daniel said. "We have the ability to score, it's our ability to execute that gets in the way. If you look at our shooting percentages, it's not that; it's simply the execution, or lack of it, which is the toughness I've talked about.
"Not just the physical toughness, but the mental toughness, emotional toughness. And I think in this game (Tuesday) night we certainly have to be elevated in that to be able to survive, much less succeed."
The Herd's .416 field goal percentage ranks in the top 90 among 343 Division I teams. West Virginia, coming off a 54-47 win Sunday at Virginia, has struggled to shoot (.353) early in Carey's 12th season.
Asked what he's learned from his 10-player roster in recent games, Daniel said his team's foibles (19 turnovers per game) have been couched by a resiliency.
"We're capable of executing and so when we don't, it's even that more frustrating," the Herd coach said. "We've had two events now where we've played back-to-back days, and we've bounced back at the back end of those.
"In an odd way, it's like our kids are trying to figure out, `Should we compete or not?' which you wouldn't think there would be any question. But again, it's our mentality, our approach to what's going on right now."
After the WVU date, the Herd goes to Southern Illinois on Saturday afternoon, before returning to the Henderson Center for three straight 2 p.m. tipoffs against Ohio (Dec. 15), Furman (Dec. 20) and Tennessee Tech (Dec. 22) before a seven-day Christmas break.
Tickets for the women's Capital Classic are priced at $7 and are available at the Civic Center box office. The game will be televised by the state's three Public Broadcasting System stations (WPBY, WSWP and WNPB).