Bob Huggins continues to tinker with his young basketball team.
In an attempt to try and make things easier for his struggling offense, Huggins began Saturday’s tougher-than-expected 72-62 victory over Radford with 6-foot-10-inch forward Aaric Murray
out on a wing and Deniz Kilicli
inside. His rationale for doing this? With Deniz in the lane occupying defenders that would create more space for his teammates to get open looks.
On his MSN postgame radio show, Huggins explained in finer detail what he was trying to accomplish at the game’s outset.
“We tried to change some things offensively to try to get to the foul line more and to be able to get to the rim a little bit more,” Huggins said. “Honestly, when you do all of the shooting drills and you look at (the stats) Aaric Murray
has been our most consistent 3-point shooter. Now, he wasn’t very good (against Radford he went 0 for 4) but to get that big out we were going to step (Murray) out to open up the lane and try and get it into the lane.
“Then the first four times we go down we shoot jump shots that aren’t even close,” he added. “We didn’t get it inside and we kept doing the same thing we’ve been doing and it wasn’t very good.”
Against the Highlanders, Kilicli had another rough outing, scoring just five points with no rebounds in 12 minutes of action. The forward has produced only 16 points and 14 rebounds in his last five games as his minutes have been significantly reduced.
Still, Huggins is not giving up on his senior because there is so much value he brings to the floor when he is playing well.
“I know this: Deniz occupies people, which is extremely important,” Huggins said. “Deniz does post, he posts strong, he occupies people and he buries people. Our zone offense is 100 times better when Deniz is in the game.”
Huggins recalled how effectively West Virginia played against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone last year with Kilicli on the floor.
“I go back to the Syracuse game and Deniz was like 3 for 13 (shooting), but if we get the goaltend call maybe we win the game and Deniz was a huge, huge part of it because he opened up big gaps in that zone to free up everybody else,” Huggins explained. “Am I giving up on Deniz? Absolutely not. But I can’t make them for him. He’s got to do that and he knows it.”
What the veteran coach has not been able to find is a couple of reliable scorers. One night it’s Juwan Staten
, another night it’s Deniz Kilicli
and then later it is freshman guard Terry Henderson
. Most recently, Aaric Murray
has been the team’s go-to guy, scoring 12 in Wednesday night’s victory over Oakland before producing a season-high 23 points in Saturday’s win against Radford. Murray (11.0 ppg.) and Staten (10.5 ppg.) are the only two players currently averaging double figures, and both were not playing for the Mountaineers last season.
Against Radford, Murray also managed to stay on the floor for the majority of the game (38 minutes) because he wasn’t in foul trouble. Perhaps the former La Salle transfer can be the guy West Virginia can build its offense around when the Mountaineers get into Big 12 play early next month - much the way forward Kevin Jones was utilized last season in the Big East.
“Aaric is getting better,” said Huggins. “He still needs to become more physical. He plays too vertical, but he’s getting better; he’s trying.”
Since being left home for last Saturday’s 15-point loss to Michigan in Brooklyn, N.Y., Huggins said there have been no further issues with Murray.
“Honest to god he’s been coachable since we got back from Michigan,” Huggins said. “He’s trying to do what we’re asking him to do. He doesn’t always do it. Games like (Radford) are harder for him and Deniz because they are matched up with smaller, quicker guys with ball skills and they are a lot better off playing people their own size.”
Beyond that, Huggins believes his players are not taking full advantage of all of the options the offense presents in any given set.
“What we suffer from is we’re like a quarterback who makes his first look and that’s it,” Huggins said. “He’s not really successful doing that. We’ll look at the first option and we won’t look at two, three and four.”
Last Saturday, Huggins was able to hang his hat on the 1-3-1 zone that turned a one-point deficit at the 10-minute mark into a 10-point victory, but he’s not sure the 1-3-1 will be that effective all the time.
“We’ve used it in the past to try and slow people down,” he said. “I think when you first throw it out there they try and figure it out and pass it a little bit more. But we about lost the Virginia Tech game because we were in the 1-3-1 and they scored like three possessions in a row. That’s our problem: I don’t know what’s good for us because one day something is pretty good and the next day it’s not any good, and you try and survive some other way.”
West Virginia (6-5) has five days after Christmas to iron things out before facing a pretty good Eastern Kentucky team next Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum. The Colonels lost for the first time eight days ago at Illinois, and will bring a gaudy 10-2 record into Morgantown.
That will be the final non-conference tune-up for the Mountaineers before Big 12 play begins in earnest on Jan. 5 when they face Oklahoma at the Coliseum.
“I feel like a guy running around sticking my fingers, toes and everything else in the dam,” said Huggins. “It’s hard to fix everything at once.”