Deniz Kilicli arrived at the WVU Coliseum 75 minutes before Tuesday afternoon’s practice, devoting extra time to working on low-post spins as student managers bumped him with pads.
West Virginia’s other big men also showed up early, alternating between back-to-the-basket moves and jumping rope. At the opposite end of the court, the guards curled, caught and launched through a series of shooting drills. The pre-practice practice was a function of no school and, of late, no luck — consecutive losses having dipped the Mountaineers’ record below .500 and their RPI to 99th.
Coach Bob Huggins has questioned some of his players’ commitment during this period of discontentment. As he scanned the busy bodies on the Coliseum floor, he said, “I hope it has nothing to do with the record. I hope it has to do with a light’s come on and they know they need to put some time in.”
WEDNESDAY: West Virginia (4-5) vs. Oakland (4-7)
TIME: 9 p.m. Eastern TELEVISION: ESPNU
RADIO: MetroNews coverage begins at 8 p.m. Eastern
Putting in extra time seems a must for the slumping Kilicli, coming off what amounted to a cameo appearance against Michigan (nine minutes of action and 0-for-3 shooting in Saturday’s 81-66 loss). One of three WVU players to start every game this season, Kilicli’s role is endangered by his 39-percent shooting, which includes a 4-of-15 clip during the last three games. Those numbers aren’t what Huggins expects from a 6-foot-9 forward situated to do his damage close to the rim.
“In three years I’ve never shot the ball worse than this three- or four-game period,” Kilicli said. “So I’m out here early working before practice. That’s all I can do.
“We’re trying to do something about the low percentage that we shoot. We’ve got to get that higher if we want to be a good team. The only way you’re going to get your confidence up is more repetition.”
Considering West Virginia has played the nation’s 16th-toughest schedule, and that its 38.9-percent shooting ranks 311th out of 345 Division I teams, perhaps it’s amazing WVU (4-5) doesn’t have a worse record. After playing but two home games in the season’s first five weeks, hosting three home games in the next 12 days against Oakland (4-7), Radford (3-5) and trending mid-major Eastern Kentucky (8-1) affords the Mountaineers a chance to construct some confidence before Big 12 play commences against Oklahoma on Jan. 5.
“The reality is there’s people who have a lot better records than us that are below 175 in the RPI,” he said. “They haven’t played who we played, and they’ve played at home.
“Honestly, we let a couple games get away that shouldn’t have got away, and if that doesn’t happen we’re 6-3 right now and everybody thinks we’ve got a pretty good chance.”
Huggins indicated center Aaric Murray would be with the team Wednesday night. The junior transfer did not travel to Brooklyn for the Michigan game, an absence Huggins chalked up to attitude and performance.
Asked about Murray’s attitude in the days since, the coach replied, “Good enough.” Asked whether Murray would play against Oakland, Huggins said, “Yeah.”
In the aftermath of the Michigan loss, which came in the really stinging aftermath of the Duquesne loss, Huggins grew frustrated over the inconsistency of Murray and Kilicli and suggested giving more minutes to a smaller, guard-oriented lineup. On Tuesday, Huggins sounded less radical: “We haven’t given up on anybody. We’re still working on our inside guys.”
Kilicli, for what it’s worth, said his relationship with Huggins remains warm, even as the coach tries to coax more effort and offense from the senior.
“It’s good — he tells me what I’ve got to do and I try to do it,” said the Turkish import. When asked about his plans for Christmas break, Kilicli said, “Maybe I’ll hang out with Huggs.”
Picked third in the nine-team Summit League, Oakland currently sports a 164 RPI. It’s highlights so far are a 72-62 overtime loss at Pitt (No. 51) and an 88-80 loss at Boise State (No. 31). The Grizzlies were less competitive in a 70-52 setback art Michigan State and a 77-50 blowout at Tennessee.
Along with two wins over Division II foes, Oakland has beaten RPI No. 168 Valparaiso 70-68 and No. 242 Texas Southern 71-69.
Guard Travis Bader, a preseason All-Summit selection, leads the team with 19.6 points per game.