Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 25, 2013

WVU win streak could provide answers

By CAM HUFFMAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BECKLEY — The West Virginia University basketball team found what it desperately needed Wednesday night at home against TCU — a win.

After dropping three straight, including a 79-52 trouncing a week ago today at Purdue, the Mountaineers needed some good news in a bad way. The 71-50 beatdown of TCU at the WVU Coliseum was just that as head coach Bob Huggins' team was never really tested.

Now the question for WVU (9-9, 2-3 Big 12) is whether the victory over the Horned Frogs was a result of making some improvement and finally getting the coaches' message, or if it was simply a side effect of playing a TCU team that is now 9-10 and still searching for its first Big 12 win after six tries.

Mountaineer fans should find their answer today when WVU travels to Oklahoma State for a 1 p.m. battle with the Cowboys (12-5, 2-3 Big 12), which will air live on ESPNU.

OSU doesn't bring the same sort of national cache that Kansas will bring to the Coliseum on Monday night, but head coach Travis Ford's roster is filled with talent, including four players averaging double figures in scoring.

Junior guard Markel Brown leads the way, scoring 14.4 points per game, with sophomore swing man Le'Bryan Nash, a McDonald's All-American in high school, close behind at 13.9 points per outing. Marcus Smart, a freshman guard who leads the Big 12 in steals with 46, is scoring 13.2 points per game, to go along with 5.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists, and fellow freshman Phil Forte is chipping in 10.8 points every time out.

Like the Mountaineers, though, the Cowboys have been struggling in the new year.

After ending December with a 69-68 loss to No. 10 Gonzaga — the same group of Bulldogs that handed WVU a 84-40 loss to open the season — OSU, which was 10-1 and ranked No. 22 in the country heading into that New Year's Eve showdown with the Zags, lost three out of five to open January, all in league play. The Cowboys fell to No. 25 Kansas State (73-67), Oklahoma (77-68) and Baylor (64-54), while securing wins over TCU and Texas Tech.

Despite the record, WVU has seen a few positives in the last few games, beginning with the play of freshman guard Eron Harris.

The Indianapolis, Ind., native, who's averaging 7.2 points per game, has reached double figures in each of the last three, scoring 17 in a 69-67 loss to Iowa State, 10 in the loss to Purdue and a career-best 19 in the win over TCU.

"I'm just getting more and more comfortable in the system and more confidence, because I know my coaches and teammates have confidence in me," said Harris, who was 6-of-14 from 3-point range in those games. I just have to go play basketball like I've been doing all my life."

Senior forward Deniz Kilicli also played one of his best games of 2013 against TCU. After playing a total of 36 minutes in the three previous games and scoring 14 points to go along with seven rebounds, Kilicli saw 22 minutes of court time against the Horned Frogs, scoring 11 points and collecting eight boards.

"That was as active as Deniz has been in a long time," said Huggins. "He did a lot of positive things."

"I haven't been playing much, so I was trying to get more rebounds and find my rhythm on defense." Kilicli explained. "No matter how many minutes I play, I'm going to try to do everything I can with those minutes. That's what I've been thinking about lately."

With 13 regular season games, all in conference, left on the WVU schedule, the Mountain-eer players are insisting it's not too late to turn the season into one that will be remembered favorably, and that's their mission, beginning tonight in Stillwater, Okla.

"We're trying to get a run going this last part of the season so that we can get chosen for the tournament," said Harris. "Our only hope is to play hard every game and see what we can do.

"We just got mad and hungry. Things have to change, and we're trying to change them."