HUNTINGTON — Marshall women’s basketball coach Tony Kemper didn’t need to speak about Western Kentucky’s program or the issues his team has had against the Hilltoppers in the past.
In 15 meetings, Marshall has just one win against Western Kentucky — that being a loss in the Conference USA tournament in 2016.
Therefore, the current Herd roster — which features several Kentucky-based players — has never defeated Western Kentucky.
It is something that weighs heavily on those within the program as they take on their rival at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Cam Henderson Center.
For Kemper, though, Thursday’s matchup isn’t just about finishing a game against Western Kentucky; it’s about finishing a game, period.
The Herd has struggled in league play to finish games, taking a 1-3 record in league play into the matchup. That record includes a pair of overtime losses in which the Herd led big early, but faltered late.
“We’re 1-3 and we’ve lost two games in overtime and we’ve had a lot of people step up into roles that certainly they were capable of, but we didn’t anticipate at the beginning of the year,” Kemper said.
“We would certainly feel better about ourselves and where we’re at if we would find a way to get another one of those.”
Kemper said that part of his team’s issue is their mentality when taking the court with players putting so much pressure on themselves to perform that, when they falter, everything gets out of sorts.
“I don’t think we’re playing loose,” Kemper said. “I think we need to calm our minds a little bit. I think we have a group that wants to be good and I think we’ve got a group that feels the stress and pressure of the difficulty that we’ve had and understands that we don’t have a lot of time left to try to work out the kinks, and we’re trying to do a lot of things at the same time.”
Those struggles have especially seen themselves on the offensive end where Marshall is struggling to score.
Marshall is shooting under 35 percent from the floor and just 21 percent from 3-point range. Kemper attributes that shooting percentage to players getting into a rhythm and figuring out what shot is a good shot to take.
“I think we’re still working through shot selection, honestly. I think that’s probably the biggest thing to start playing better offense,” Kemper said. “Maybe the biggest thing to start playing better offense, all of us collectively, we’ve got to figure out the things we’re good at and start to eliminate some of those shots that are very, very difficult for us individually.”
Finding an offensive rhythm will be key this week against Western Kentucky (2-6, 1-1 C-USA), who is one of the league’s top defensive teams.
Much of that defensive success is led by a lengthy lineup that features guard Meral Abdelgawad and forward Fatou Pouye.
Pouye currently leads the Hilltoppers, who have also struggled offensively, at 13 points per game. Abdelgawad is averaging 9.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
The Hilltoppers may get some help this week, as well, if Raneem Elgedawy — the team’s premier post presence — makes her season debut. The 6-foot-4 post player is a game-changer, especially on the offensive end and in Western Kentucky’s rebounding efforts.
For Marshall to stay with Western Kentucky on the glass, the Herd will rely on Alexis Johnson, who has proven to be a force for Marshall in the early portion of the year.
Johnson is averaging 11.3 points and 9.0 rebounds for the Herd.
“I know what she’s capable of,” Kemper said. “She’s a tremendous athlete. It’s not surprising to me at all that she’s chasing rebounds. She does that every day. She’s got a nose for the ball.”
Marshall also will need a big game from guard Savannah Wheeler, who leads the team at 14.0 points per game. Wheeler’s ability to convert and get to the foul line could go a long way for the Herd, who is looking to get back in the win column after a pair of losses at Charlotte last weekend.
After Thursday’s matchup in Huntington, the teams meet again at 3 p.m. on Sunday in Bowling Green, Kentucky.