West Virginia set to take on Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 01:03
It’s all come down to this for the West Virginia men’s basketball team as the looming Big 12 tournament almost certainly represents the Mountaineers’ only chance of extending their season this year.
With a potential National Invitation tournament selection virtually unreachable because of the Mountaineers’ overall record, West Virginia (13-18, 6-12) needs to win its conference tournament during this inaugural campaign in the Big 12 in order to pick up an at-large bid to make the NCAA tournament.
The road through the Big 12 tournament begins today in Kansas City against the Red Raiders of Texas Tech (10-19, 3-15).
Fortunately for the Mountaineers, though, they defeated Texas Tech in both regular-season meetings – which also happened to be the first two meetings between the new conference opponents.
On the other hand, West Virginia has also lost a season-worst six consecutive games heading into their first-ever Big 12 tournament.
But according to senior forward Deniz Kilicli, who was named to this year’s all-Big 12 honorable mention team, the Mountaineers actually found a little cohesion and some confidence during the second half of a 83-74 loss to Iowa State – a game in which the Mountaineers nearly erased a 27-point advantage in less than 15 minutes.
"This gave me so much hope, this comeback," Kilici said after the game. "I think next week, we can make a run. You never know. It’s 0-0 now. So, if you can put all the B.S. behind and just do what we do, I think we’ll be just fine.
"We just can’t start the way we start. If we started better, I think we’ll be just fine."
Unfortunately, West Virginia has yet to get off to a really great start against the Red Raiders in either of the two previous meetings, despite sweeping the regular-season series.
In the first meeting between WVU and Texas Tech, the Mountaineers used a strong second half to close out Texas Tech 77-61 on its home floor, but then West Virginia nearly collapsed in the second half of the game in Morgantown, barely surviving (66-64) when a potential game-winning 3-pointer for Texas Tech just grazed the rim as time expired.
Kilicli scored a career-high 25 points in that contest and the senior will have more at stake than most in Wednesday’s game, as it could potentially represent his final collegiate game.
He’ll need help from fellow all-Big 12 honorable mention honoree freshman guard Eron Harris. The Mountaineers are one of the few power six conference teams without a double-digit scorer, but Harris is knocking on the door at 9.9 points per game. He’s also been more effective as the season and conference play have rolled on; the freshman is averaging 12.5 points per contest in league play.
Harris has also scored at least 23 points in two of West Virginia’s last four games, and like Kilicli, he was adamant that the Mountaineers need to simply start games with more urgency from the opening tip.
"If we played the way we played in this second half in the first half, we would blow teams out," Harris said. "But we have to have that attitude the whole game. You can’t come out and play lackadaisically because it’s 0-0. We’ve got to come out like there’s two minutes to go and we’re down.
"Play like we’re down 20 from the start. Not 0-0. That’s going to be our focus, and if we do that ... everybody’s seen how we can be at our best. We can be one of the best teams in the nation at our best. It’s just up to us."
Even West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, who has publicly berated his team all season for their inability to compete on a regular basis, isn’t throwing in the towel yet on this season despite the fact he’s never had a lower winning percentage at the helm of any team during his 31 years coaching basketball.
"I tried to explain to them before the game, it’s never too late as long as you have the conference tournament," Huggins said. "As long as you’re still standing, you might as well fight."