West Virginia’s Deniz Kilicli scored only five points on 2-of-6 shooting in last week’s 84-50 loss at Gonzaga. (File photo/U.S. Presswire)
Disappointed, despondent and borderline disgusted by a 34-point loss at Gonzaga, West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins didn’t like the way his team looked. So much, in fact, that he confiscated the players’ school-issued practice gear.
“He said he wanted us to earn that WV on our chests,” forward Keaton Miles said Monday. “He said that we represent a state that takes pride in basketball and WV sports in general. He wanted us to go out there and represent that in the right way.”
“The right way” did not include committing 20 turnovers against eight assists at Gonzaga, or forcing up 3-pointers early in the possession, or falling behind by 27 at half and showing little scrap thereafter. Blistered by that 84-50 season-opening loss, and facing a 10-day layoff before WVU’s next game, Huggins sought to grab his players’ attention by grabbing their practice unis.
And ever since? “It’s been shirts and skins,” Miles said.
The move may seem a bit rah-rah or symbolic, but players insisted Huggins’ message came across. “Coach is serious,” said point guard Juwan Staten. “Huggs is from West Virginia and he played here, so naturally it means more to him. It woke us up and I think we’re practicing better.”
With three transfers making their first WVU starts in Spokane, the Mountaineers (0-1) were out-of-sync offensively and shot only 27 percent. They were especially trigger-happy from 3-point range, sinking 3-of-26 shots, and suffered another dose of humiliation after spending the offseason plotting revenge for what Gonzaga did to them in last March’s NCAA tournament blowout.
“It was shocking to us because we had put so much time into it, and so much effort,” Miles said. “I guess everyone wanted it so bad that they went off (game plan) and tried to take it into their own hands.
“We just couldn’t buy a basket last game. We got frustrated. Coach got frustrated. It was just mayhem.”
Amid the mayhem, West Virginia made infrequent use of forward Deniz Kilicli in the low post. The senior and top returning scorer finished 2-of-6 from the floor before fouling out with five points. While acknowledging that perimeter passers need to feed more passes inside, Huggins said “Deniz has to present himself better, and he’s going to have to catch some balls that aren’t perfect balls.”
With three games on tap Thursday through Sunday at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., Huggins’ is seeking to clearly define his players’ roles. Part of that involves changing their mindset from scorers to contributors.
“It’s hard sometimes to make 20-year-old guys understand you don’t have to score 20 points a game to be a good player,” Huggins said. “You can always guard, you can always rebound, you can always do those little things to make your team better. That’s kind of what we’re missing. Ww’ve got too many guys who think they’re the guy who are supposed to take the shots.”
West Virginia also was out-rebounded 38-36 by Gonzaga, a deficiency Huggins also traced back to perimeter players chucking up forced shots at the wrong times.
“It’s hard for our bigs to rebound the ball when you don’t know when somebody’s giving to burp it up,” he said. “We’ve got some guys who need to limit their shot-making exploits until the end of the clock. Then we’ll all know they’re going to shoot it, and we can all go rebound the ball and life will be a lot better. ”
West Virginia opens the Old Spice Classic against Marist (1-2) at noon Thursday, in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.