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WVU basketball: Kilicli emerges from offensive rut

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Truck Bryant played one of the best games of his basketball career Sunday, and it came at the end of one of his worst strings at West Virginia.

Kevin Jones was "bad," according to his coach, and didn't look like the player who had come to embody consistency for a team that so often needs just that.

Yet at the end of the day for the Mountaineers, they had won for the first time in more than two weeks and knew that one of their stars did everything they needed and the other was good enough to win with ... which is pretty much exactly the way Jones and Bryant have been throughout the season.

In an 87-84 overtime win at Providence, Bryant and Jones merely switched the roles they normally maintain.

Yet on a day when Bryant scored 32 points and Jones added 20 for his ninth straight 20-point game, six players came off the bench and gave the Mountaineers a total of 13 points.

And WVU (16-8, 6-5 Big East) needed a lot of points to overcome a 15-point deficit and then overtime to win and did so because Deniz Kilicli had a career day.  

In a rut not much different from Bryant's, the 6-foot-9 junior from Istanbul, Turkey, scored a career-high 22 points.

"I kind of slowed down a little bit more than what I used to do," he said. "I watched all the tapes to see what I did and if I don't get my feet down, I don't have any power."

As bad as Bryant had been going (12-of-47 from the floor, 7-for-32 from 3-point range the past four games), Kilicli wasn't able to make up the difference. Kilicli averaged 11.3 points per game and made 16-of-38 shots and missed 5 of 7 free throws.

Jones averaged 23 points and 12 boards per game, but slipped Sunday and was 8-for-19 against the Friars.

"It's hard for us to win when K.J. plays as bad as he played," Coach Bob Huggins said.

Kilicli also had career-high totals for made and attempted field goals on a 9-of-15 day and was 4-of-5 at the free throw line.

Providence's two defenders charged with guarding Kilicli in what was mostly a zone defense ended up with seven fouls.

"The whole year this year, even if I didn't score, people couldn't get around me," Kilicli said. "That was one thing we did at the beginning of the year. We learned how to do that and now, if I start to put my scoring with a couple moves, with sealing people, they're not going to be able to get around me,"

Kilicli was just 2-for-4 in the loss against St. John's, but followed that with a 2-for-10 day in a loss to Syracuse. He would have been 3-for-11 had officials called a goaltending in the final seconds that would have tied the score. Two days later, Kilicli was 6-for-13 in a loss to Pitt.

Against the Friars, Kilicli looked like a player who realized none of the defenders could handle him. Kilicli applied all the things he and his coaches worked on in practice since Monday's loss to Pitt.

"Before, I was off balance the whole time," he said. "Look at Syracuse and St. John's and even the Pitt game ... look at my feet. My upper body goes one way and my feet go another way. When I do that, I'd hit just the backboard."

That became the focus of his practices during the six days between games.

"It's not a hard thing to change," Kilicli said. "I'm not saying from now on I'm going to get 30 a game, but it helps a lot."

Kilicli slowed down against the Friars and took his time when he got the ball in the post. He figured things out early and was useful at the most opportune moments for the Mountaineers, who play host to Notre Dame (15-8, 7-3) at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

He had seven points in a 19-7 run when WVU went from down 15 points to down just three. Kilicli added five points in the final 3 minutes, 32 seconds of regulation and then flipped in four more points in overtime.

"I have a couple moves," he said. "People watch film and they know what you're going to do. They know I'm going to go right. It's important I make them think about that, but I didn't shoot it with my right (Sunday). They couldn't guard my left."

Kilicli found success with his sweeping, left-handed hook shot. He worked for open shots with a series of pivots. He drew three fouls while working for scoring chances. He even had four offensive rebounds, his second-best total the seasons. Kilicli had two baskets and one free throw off his offensive rebounds.

"There was a while where I didn't think he'd get that many the rest of the season," Huggins said. "I thought this was as competitive as what Deniz has been."

The Irish have won four in a row, including two games on the road, overall. WVU has won two straight against ND and four out of five in the series. The Mountaineers haven't lost to Notre Dame at home since 2005.

WVU is No. 25 in the RPI and No. 5 in strength of schedule and the mountaineers believe they need to win the remaining four home games to make the NCAA Tournament for a fifth straight season.

"We've got a lot of season left," Huggins said. "We're in good shape RPI-wise and strength of schedule-side, but we can't lose touch with some of the people in the middle (of the Big East race).

"I feel good that if it came down to having a similar record to some of those other people that we're going to be all right. We've done what the committee has asked us to do."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142.

 


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