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WVU basketball: Hinds, Kilicli key for Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN - It doesn't take long to find a specific symmetry in West Virginia's stat sheet.

This is a team that lacks a winning record and is losing more than it wins in conference play. It is a team without a player scoring in double figures, something none of the Big 12's other nine teams can say.

Seven Mountaineers average between 7.1 and 9.7 points per game. Five of those seven have led the team in scoring at least once in nine conference games. If you want to isolate a reason why WVU is 11-11 overall and 4-5 in the Big 12 entering Saturday's 4 p.m. men's basketball game at suddenly spry TCU, why a team with talent can sometimes lack a direction, that's a pretty good one.

West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins said last week that opponents have a hard time deciphering WVU's offense because WVU doesn't really even know what it's going. That was taken to be a joke, but you have to wonder. It's one thing when a defense doesn't know where to begin when it comes to guarding WVU. It's something else when WVU doesn't know where to begin to find points.  

Is this team better playing big or small? Motion offense or dribble-drive? Three guards or four? Two bigs or three?

How often has a possession wandered toward the end of the shot clock or have the Mountaineers dragged themselves through a drought hoping and waiting for someone to jump out, take the ball and put it into the basket? The person with the ball is trying to find someone. Someone's watching the person with the ball.

On and on it goes, and it's gone on for much of the season, but it might be coming to an end. The Mountaineers embarked on this quixotic mission for a postseason bid late last month, reaching for the NCAA Tournament until it's in their hands or indisputably out of their reach.

Something is happening along the way that was supposed to happen before. Jabarie Hinds and Deniz Kilicli are starting near the end of the season to be who they were at the beginning, back when Huggins believed they were the most gifted parts of the offense and thus worthy of the trust to take the Mountaineers far.

Kilicli has scored in double figures in three of the past five games, something he did just once before this season. He's been aggressive and effective the past two games with 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting. He's drawn defenders. He's forced fouls. He's been a factor.

"I thought he was terrific," Huggins said. "He's so much more active. He does a great job sealing people - we just don't do a great job getting him the ball. But I think the past two games were his best two all-around games Deniz has played."

Hinds' season has been a struggle. He started the game on the bench for the first time in his career against Kansas and then went scoreless for the third time in his career a game later against Texas Tech - and the Mountaineers did well in both without him, scaring Kansas and shooting a season-high percentage against the Red Raiders.

His shooting percentage dipped to 33 percent and the Mountaineers did more with less Kilicli, which might make one wonder if WVU was better off without Hinds.

"Jabarie, at times, tries to do too much," Huggins said. "Guys have got to play within themselves and do the things they're good at doing. When they do that, we're a much better team."

Then Hinds flashed against Texas and its athletic backcourt defense, finding a groove in the middle of the game to shake a rut and finish with 14 points, a total he and Kilicli had to lead the team to back-to-back wins for the first time since the end of December.

"I was making shots," Hinds said. "I got some confidence and it feel like every shot I take I will make again."

Hinds had some bad drives and poor decisions, but he made a layup and then another before sinking a jumper and then another to spook the Longhorns into a timeout.

"I know Jabarie pretty well and he's one of the most talented guys I've seen in my entire life," Kilicli said. "Of course it's going to click one day, and it's going to be soon. That's how I feel about it."

These are the two the Mountaineers need, not just against the Horned Frogs (10-12, 1-8), who just beat Kansas on the home floor WVU will visit, but for the remainder of the schedule. An irresistible Kilicli forces the defense to help and gives the guards room to cut and float for scoring opportunities. A confident Hinds can search for comfy jumpers and open drives to the rim, as opposed to insisting on both.

And if one gets it going, he makes it easier for the other, but then the rest of the balanced scorers around them. The Mountaineers have defended much better lately and have been their usual, overachieving selves rebounding throughout the season, but they've rarely had the offensive infusion of energy to better empower both.

"The more guys we get scoring, the greater the threat our whole team is to the other teams," said freshman Eron Harris, who has evolved into the team's top scoring option. "When we've got Jabarie in double digits and we've got Deniz in double digits and I get in double digits, the better we all can be on offense and then we take that to the way we guard and rebound."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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