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December 28, 2011

Mountaineers set for Big East opener

MORGANTOWN — In the Jewish religion there is a ceremony called a bar mitzvah, which is a coming-of-age ceremony that generally begins with the celebrant saying “today I am a man.”

When West Virginia’s freshman-heavy basketball team takes the basketball court at the Coliseum at 7 p.m. to face Villanova in the opening game of the Big East season, it is something of a bar mitzvah for the Mountaineers’ first-year players, for they no longer can be freshmen.

Today they must be men.

This is especially true since junior center Deniz Kilicli is doubtful, at best, with a hip pointer.

“He went this morning and he wasn’t very good,” Coach Bob Huggins said Tuesday. “He tried, but he wasn’t very good. I’m not going to play him if he can’t play. We’ve got to get those guys who are going to play reps. If he doesn’t get his reps, he can’t play.”

Huggins, of course, has never really allowed them to use the idea that they were freshmen as excuses.

“I never gave them that out,” he said.

And he surely isn’t going to give it to them now, not almost halfway through their first collegiate season.

“They have been in some close games, big games,” he said. “We just have to get them more consistent. You aren’t always going to make shots, but we can’t keep taking plays off. We get things going our way and all of a sudden we take plays off and let everyone back in the game.”

If Huggins has found any fault with this group of freshmen, and there are seven of them on the team, it is that they haven’t yet learned that in college basketball you play 110 percent for 100 percent of the time.

When WVU has had troubles, Huggins says that’s the reason.

“It’s more us taking plays off than other people doing things. It’s hard to get them to understand that if you take plays off they know they are going to get you. The other team makes open shots.”

Two of the key freshmen, especially against a guard-oriented team like Villanova, are point guards Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds.

“It’s basketball. Basketball is basketball. Every time we have been on the floor we have learned new stuff. These non-conference games have helped us get better and better,” he said.

And, he notes, it’s a process that isn’t going to end any time soon.

“As long as you are on the court, even if you are a junior or senior, you are still learning. Not every game is the same, so you learn each game,” he added.

Villanova will put a new touch on his and the other freshmen’s educations, for they play a different brand of basketball.

The Wildcats usually play four guards, penetrate a lot, shoot a lot of 3s and push, push, push the game.

They are off to a deceivingly bad start at 7-5, but don’t believe anything about it.

This is a new season and nothing that transpired before matters now that conference play has begun.

“When they shoot it well they are really good,” Huggins said. “It’s the same Villanova — penetrate, pitch, shoot a lot of 3s, shoot a lot of 3s in transition. Wayns has been great for them. Everything goes through him. He penetrates, pitches it, makes shots and sets up a lot of pick and rolls.”

That would be Maalik Wayns, who is averaging 17.4 points a game as their high scorer.

“It’s not going to be any different than playing Kansas State. It’s not going to be any different than playing Baylor. It’s not going to be any different than playing Mississippi State,” Huggins continued. “We just have to go play. It’d be nice if we’d make a shot or two, but we can’t take plays off.

“We have to try and guard them. We can’t give them pick and roll situations.”

To do that they have got to guard, not only one-on-one, but team defense, although it starts with in-your-face man to man.

“Since they started basketball it has always been stay between your man and the basket. If you didn’t stay between your man and the basket, obviously you give up easier shots,” Huggins said.

“You can’t let them have straight line drives. It’s hard to help on, it’s hard to make rotations on it. We have to get them to drive it where you want them to drive it, but to tell the truth, we haven’t done a very good job on that. Of course, when he was a freshman, Joe Mazzulla didn’t guard anyone either. He just flopped around and got beat all the time. It’s a matter of doing the right thing every day.”

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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