By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The Coliseum was empty, save for two lonely figures down on the floor.
“Thump, thump, thump” went the basketball. Deniz Kilicli would stop and shoot, five feet, maybe 10 feet from the basket.
Sometimes the ball would go in. Not often enough, considering at this time he wasn’t being covered, there was no crowd roaring. Practice, for today’s now important 9 p.m. home game against Oakland, wasn’t going to begin for half an hour, yet Kilicli was working on finding his absent shot, the one that has him sitting with just a .395 shooting percentage and that got him yanked after just a minute in the second half of the last game against Michigan.
Then it was a 1-footer he had missed, and it got to his coach, Bob Huggins, who would note that Kilicli wasn’t doing the team much good if he couldn’t shoot, because he was not in there for his defense.
The words may have hurt someone else, but Huggins knows his players, understands the ones who can take personal criticism, the ones who will work harder because of it.
Kilicli is one such player.
“There are going to be times like that,” he said of his scoring problems. “It’s just a period right now where I don’t shoot well, and that’s the only reason I go in the game, to shoot the ball. It will get better. In three years, I never shot the ball like this for a three- or four-game period.
“I’ll work on it. I’ve been here for an hour and 15 minutes before practice. That’s all I can do.”
He believes Huggins offers the proper advice by saying the team needs to come early and stay late, most of them arriving a good 20 minutes before the scheduled starting time, working on things that need work.
And as for being singled out by Huggins, he simply lets it run off his back.
“Our relationship is always good,” he said. “We never have problems. He tells me what I have to do and I try to do it.”
And that is the truth. Huggins has spoken so highly of Kilicli, the person, talked about how he is one of his favorite players ever, but says he doesn’t like him enough to lose with him.
So he is pushing buttons, trying to find the right combinations, the players who will end a two-game losing streak and get the team to .500, WVU being one of only five teams from the super six conferences to possess a sub-.500 record entering Tuesday’s play.
Huggins understands the record has been earned, that it reflects the way the team has played, but he notes, too, that there are things that have happened to put it there, not the least of it being that this game against Oakland’s 4-7 team is just the third home game of the season.
“Look at everybody else’s schedule. Some people have played six, seven, eight, some nine home games already. We haven’t. We have a stretch now where we play at home and hopefully can get some momentum going,” he said.
How important is it for WVU to play at the Coliseum? The Mountaineers have won 47 of their last 48 games at the Coliseum in the month of December and have won 43 of their last 47 games against unranked teams on the home floor.
Then there is a matter of losing by three points on a neutral court to Davidson and by four at Duquesne.
“A little thing here or there and we’re 6-3 and that doesn’t sound so bad,” he said.
But the truth is it is going to take straightening out the shooting, the Mountaineers possessing just a .389 team shooting percentage, which ranks last among all 10 Big 12 teams.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.