Mountaineers running out of silver linings
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - No matter how bad West Virginia's basketball season got, Deniz Kilicli always had something to say about it.
It wasn't always bad, either. For most of January and into February, even as the Mountaineers continually came up short and he wasn't playing terribly well, Kilicli stayed positive, talking about turning things around before it was too late.
It wasn't always good, either. For the latter part of February and now into March, the senior center was progressively more pessimistic, even as his own play improved dramatically. It was a week ago that he flatly said that the truth is, "We're just not very good.''
Seldom, though, has Kilicli not said much of anything. Yet that's where he found himself shortly after West Virginia's fifth straight loss, Wednesday night's 83-70 defeat at Oklahoma.
"I just can't find anything positive to say after all these games, man,'' Kilicli said, sitting on a cooler outside the locker room door at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. "This year's been rough on everybody, and personally it's been rough for me. I'm not healthy. I can't sleep, I can't eat. This sucks.''
Indeed, West Virginia's season continues in what seems to have been a season-long decline, the latest being the current losing skid that guarantees the Mountaineers (13-17, 6-11 Big 12) will not enjoy even a break-even season unless they miraculously win next week's Big 12 tournament.
Oh, and not only will it will be the first time in 10 years WVU has finished with a losing record, the next loss will mean that only two teams in school history have lost more - Gale Catlett's 8-20 team in 2001-02 and his 10-19 team three years before that. Saturday's 1:30 p.m. home finale against Iowa State will determine if these Mountaineers are in a position to match that 1998-99 team for the second-most losses in school history.
"We've already made history,'' said Kilicli, who will play his last home game Saturday. "This group of guys has made history already.''
On Wednesday night in Oklahoma, it was one of West Virginia's handful of variations on a theme that plagued the Mountaineers. Sometimes they start fast and fade. Other times they fall behind early and try to rally. Against the Sooners it was the latter, WVU having trailed 10-1 at the start, by 17 in the first half, by 13 with 10 minutes to play and then cutting it to four points before fading.
"I guess we know it's the last half and there's a sense of urgency in the second half,'' freshman guard Eron Harris said, referring to West Virginia's ill-fated multiple second-half comebacks. "But the good teams do that in the first half.''
The habit of falling behind and then rallying - West Virginia did the latter in Norman by shooting nearly 70 percent in the second half - is annoying to everyone, but particularly Kilicli. He's played as consistently well as anyone on the roster over the last few weeks and has little to show for it.
"I'm tired of this. I'm tired of getting 12, 15 [points] down and try to get back up again. It's hard to come back,'' Kilicli said. "I mean, how many times does a team come back [to win a game] in a year anyways? Maybe once or twice. And we try to do that every game.
"When you dig that big a hole, you can't make a mistake, OK? You have to play perfect after that, and we try to do that every game. Nobody's perfect, so when you mess up one play it costs us the whole game.
"I feel like we just don't have that thing, but I don't know what that is,'' Kilicli continued. "Some people call it toughness. Some people call it having heart. Whatever, we just don't have that.''
Coach Bob Huggins, himself involved in the first five-game losing streak of his Division I coaching career and the worst skid since he lost five in a row during his first season at NAIA Walsh College, understands Kilicli's frustration.
"If you're a senior and you have the most losses since when,'' Huggins asked, "it's kind of your legacy, isn't it?''
Still, there remained just a ray of hope from the Turkish center, even if he knows how silly the thought might be.
"Yeah, we have a chance. We can go [make it to] the NCAA tournament,'' Kilicli said. "But if we keep doing this our season will end [next week].''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.