WVU basketball: Aggressive play pays off for Kilicli
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- There were times throughout his career, including occasions this season, when Deniz Kilicli figured he was too brutish for his own good.
Now it's the best thing going for West Virginia.
The 6-foot-9, 260-pound Kilicli has always played basketball with a forceful purpose. Don't let the spinning, arching hook shots around the basket disguise his demeanor.
Officiating crews haven't always allowed Kilicli to play with his more physical natural style, but he has gradually adapted and learned to watch how each game is being called.
"I learned some things from three years," he said.
To understand the depths of his concern about officiating, consider that last year Kilicli reasoned he was better suited to come off the bench because he felt officials called the game stricter at the start to set a standard that served to discourage the way he plays.
Entering tonight's 9 p.m. game against No. 10 Kansas State (20-5, 8-2 Big 12) that will be televised on ESPN, Kilcili has five double-figure scoring performances in the last eight games, including a career-high 25 in Saturday's 66-64 win against Texas Tech at the Coliseum.
He wasn't nearly as effective earlier this season and toward the start of conference play - WVU's first season in the Big 12 after Kilicli spent the prior three seasons in the Big East - there was a learning curve to be respected.
"The referees have a clue about every player, what those players do, where they foul, where they can't move their feet, stuff like that," Kilicli said. "They had an idea about us, but we had no idea about the Big 12. Now we know, but in the beginning of the year it was hard."
Kilicli was bumped out of the starting lineup for four games last month, but upon his return he's been noticeably more active and assertive and has worked harder than ever to get open and to stay open in the post.
If he gets the ball, he generally does something with it. He's scored 96 points the past seven games on 62 field-goal attempts and 42 free-throw attempts.
"Everyone is somehow strong, so if you let him catch it in the post, it's either going to be a foul or he's going to make it," Kilicli said.
In Saturday's victory, Kilicli attempted 11 shots and 14 free throws as three defenders who tried defending him fouled out of the game.
"They let me catch the ball," Kilicli said. "Once I did, I went straight up."
A game before, Kilicli took 10 shots and only six free throws and scored 13 points in a 20-point loss at Baylor.
"The Baylor game was different officiating," he said. "Everyone got fouls - us, and them, too. This game, I thought they were letting us play a little bit."
Kilicli had just two fouls against Texas Tech, his lowest total since he played six minutes in the 27-point loss at Purdue. He started this surge right after that and has only been in real foul trouble once, when he fouled out against Oklahoma State.
Kilicli was in the midst of a promising performance and finished with 12 points, but accelerated his exit with a silly frustration foul in the backcourt after a missed shot. That was the second time he'd fouled out in Big 12 play and the third time this season, but he's stayed clear of danger since then.
He said the Big 12 games aren't officiated differently than Big East games, but he said the officials and the players had to get to know one another. He credits his play of late to greater familiarity as officials know his play and he knows what's permissible.
"I'm consistent with how I post up," he said. "I'm going to do that the whole game. That's how I play. It's not a foul if you keep your hands up. I don't grab people."
Many post players, in the Big 12 and in other leagues, will drop their arms when they post up and hook a defender's legs to get position or pin an opponent's arm on his side to let a teammate throw a pass.
Kilcili said he remembers Coach Bob Huggins telling him that an official was impressed with how aggressively and legally Kilicli posted up and kept his hands visible for teammates as well as officials to see.
He thinks officials have grown to understand, accept and even respect his way, but that it has to do with Kilicli granting them the same treatment.
"In the beginning of the year, there were calls I wasn't even in," he said. "That doesn't happen anymore. I think they appreciate if you work hard and try to do what they say. I always ask them, 'What's going on, man?' They'll tell you before you foul most of the time. 'Look, man, you've got to keep your elbows tucked in.' Then I try to do that.
"Lots of guys act stubborn and don't listen to the refs. I listen to them because they can take you out of the game. I respect them and when I do that I think I get the respect back."
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HUGGINS COACHED Kansas State in the 2006-07 season and led the Wildcats to the NIT. That was the first of what is now seven straight 20-win seasons for the school.
WVU and Kansas State played last season in Wichita, Kan., with WVU winning in two overtimes, but this is the first time Huggins has been back to Bramlage Coliseum.
"In all honesty, if I had a list of 100 things to worry about, that might be No. 112," Huggins said. "The truth of the matter is I've been gone six years now."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.