The rise of The Turk
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It's difficult to call what West Virginia's basketball team has accomplished of late a surge.
The Mountaineers have won two games in a row for the first time since late December and have a chance to match a season's best by winning a third straight Saturday at TCU. But the last two victims, Texas Tech and Texas, are near the bottom of the Big 12 standings and TCU occupies the cellar.
In other words, until West Virginia beats a team that at least has a winning record, it's probably not time to celebrate.
There have, however, been signs of life of late. The Mountaineers are, for the most part, shooting the ball better than they have all season, and coach Bob Huggins likes the way they have defended.
But perhaps the most encouraging sign for Huggins is that he is finally getting what he expected all along this season from senior center Deniz Kilicli. Huggins has lamented time and again that that this team is not getting the kind of play from its veterans that he would like, and given that Kilicli is the only fourth-year player in the program, that points to him.
Of late, though, Kilicli has been making plays. He's scoring, rebounding and blocking shots. And West Virginia will be better for it if he continues to do so.
"He hasn't made plays like that. He hasn't been that active,'' Huggins said after Kilicli scored 14 points and made six of his eight shots in Monday's 60-58 win over Texas. "If we can keep him that active, that helps our team a bunch.''
Kilicli has spent much of the season bouncing back and forth between relevancy and irrelevancy. His playing time has gone up and down with his performance. He will play six minutes one game and 22 the next.
It has frustrated him, of course, but no more so than his performance frustrates Huggins. Lately, Kilicli seems to have simply accepted that his playing time will fluctuate and that he just has to make the best of what opportunities he gets.
"That's up to [Huggins] how much I play,'' Kilicli said a few weeks ago. "If I'm in a game six minutes I have to make the most of those six minutes.''
Lately, Kilicli has begun to make the most of all of his minutes. He's not putting up huge numbers, but he's playing hard and, for the most part, playing well.
If he continues to do that he will continue to play. His 34 minutes on the floor Monday against Texas were a season high.
In fact, since playing just six minutes in a loss at Purdue on Jan. 19 - that was the end of a nine-game stretch when he played just 14.6 minutes per game after averaging 24.4 in the first eight games - Kilicli has averaged 25.4 minutes. He's also averaging 12.2 points in those last five games and is shooting 58 percent. He's not rebounding a lot, but he's had five blocked shots over that span after having just four in the first 17 games.
Most of all, though, Kilicli is giving the effort Huggins wants to see.
"He has a lot of energy right now,'' Huggins said. "He was terrific in practice. He actually dove out of bounds, which you don't see Deniz doing a lot.''
But then TCU somehow knocked off No. 5 Kansas 62-55 at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth. It was TCU's first win since joining the Big 12.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.