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Marquette Women's Basketball Preview: vs Western Illinois

The Golden Eagles look to win two games in a row for the first time this season when they host the Fighting Leathernecks this afternoon at the Al McGuire Center.

Go figure, there's actually a picture in the hopper of Rocky, WIU's mascot.
Go figure, there's actually a picture in the hopper of Rocky, WIU's mascot.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

If it wasn't obvious from the recap, I was surprised to see Marquette defeat Vanderbilt on Thursday afternoon.  It seemed that everything was working against the Golden Eagles heading into that game, but a strong team effort (and a lower than average number of turnovers) got them the win.

Now they have to build off of that win and get some momentum heading into Big East play next week.  Today's game will be the last of the non-conference games for Marquette before opening the conference slate at the McGuire Center against Xavier.  At 3-7, MU finds themselves tied for the third worst overall record in the conference, but it is a three-way tie.  The postseason might be a steep climb for Carolyn Kieger in her first season, but if the lightbulb went on for her team during the Vanderbilt game, Marquette could be a very tough out on a regular basis in the Big East.

The key will be responsible ball handling.  I mean that both from the perspective of not turning it over (Marquette averages 21 turnovers a game) and as far as taking smart shots.  Against the Commodores, MU overcame a 3-17 shooting performance from senior guard Arlesia Morse because every single other player on the team shot better than 50%.  Most notably, Kenisha Bell and Tia Elbert combined to shoot 12-21 in that game.  Again, if the lightbulb is going on for the freshman guard duo, perhaps Marquette can get something going in conference play.

Game #11: vs Western Illinois (6-4)

When: Sunday, December 21, 2014, at 2pm Central
Where: Al McGuire Center
Audio/Visual: Free live video and live stats.
Special Promotions: $3 admission for anyone who brings a toy to donate, and there will be a teddy bear toss at halftime.  PLUS: "Best" tacky Christmas sweater wins a prize.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

The Fighting Leathernecks do have a winning record on the season, but there are a couple of caveats.  First, one of the wins was an 89-42 decision over William Woods University, which is an NAIA school.  Second, they haven't played at all since December 12, when they came away with a 64-54 win over cross state rivals Eastern Illinois.

WIU was picked to finish fourth in the Summit League this season, but they did pick up a first place vote in the balloting.  A lot of that is probably due to junior forward Ashley Luke being named as the preseason Player of the Year.  That would slot her in front of the trio of players that made the SL's preseason all-conference teams that Marquette already saw when they played South Dakota earlier this season.  Luke is absolutely living up to the hype, leading the Leathernecks in both scoring (17.4 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 rpg).

Luke was named to the Summit League Preseason First Team, while teammate Michelle Maher was added to the Second Team.  The junior guard, like Luke, is one of three Leathernecks to start all 10 games this season and she leads the team in assists with 34.6per game.  She also averages 8.6 points and 3.8 rebounds, so she'll be someone that will likely draw the attention of MU's defense very quickly.