By Cam Huffman
Looking at it on paper, the next week should finally provide the struggling West Virginia University basketball team with a break.
Staring at a 4-5 record, and a two-game losing streak that included blowing a double-digit lead at Duquesne, things haven’t been going the Mountaineers’ way. But with Oakland and Radford next on the schedule, beginning with the meeting with Oakland tonight at 9 p.m. on ESPNU, this could be a stretch for WVU to get healthy.
But the way things have gone so far, head coach Bob Huggins’ crew can’t take anything for granted.
“We’ve just got to do what we do and improve every time we play somebody,” said senior center Deniz Kilicli. “If we do that, we’ll be fine. These games are really important games. The teams that you’re supposed to beat, if you lose, it brings your RPI down. So we’ve got to be careful.”
The good news for WVU is that the next four games will be played at the Coliseum. After playing seven of their first nine games away from Morgantown, the Mountaineers — 2-0 on their home floor, including a win over previously-undefeated Virginia Tech — can’t wait to play in front of the home crowd.
“I’m really excited about that,” said senior forward Deniz Kilicli. “It’s good for the fans and everybody. It’s good to play at home and go right back to your house after the game.”
Huggins, never one to make excuses, said the travel might have had an impact on his team’s poor play in recent weeks.
“We’ve played two home games,” he said. “Everybody else has played six, seven, eight, some of them nine or 10, games at home. We haven’t.”
But that hasn’t been the only concern. WVU is shooting just .389 from the field as a team, the lowest percentage in the Big 12, with no other team shooting below 40 percent.
“We go through self-inflicted droughts,” said Huggins. “We’ve had shots. We just haven’t made them. When you do that, you’re probably not going to win.”
Huggins challenged his players after Saturday’s loss to Michigan, questioning why they weren’t in the gym before and after practice, getting extra shot attempts.
His words must have had an impact, as almost the full team was on the floor early before Tuesday’s practice.
“We’re trying to do something about the low percentage we shoot,” said Kilicli. “We’ve got to get that higher if we want to be a good team, and the only thing you can do is just work on it more. So that’s what we’re doing.
“It’s a confidence thing. The only way you’re going to get your confidence up is more repetition.”
Oakland will bring a 4-7 record into tonight’s game, but it’s definitely been tested early on.
The Golden Grizzlies’ losses came at the hands of Louisiana-Lafayette, Boise State, Pitt, No. 15 Michigan State, Tennessee, Western Michigan and Ohio. The game at Pitt went to overtime, before the Panthers pulled out a 72-62 win. Oakland is also coming off a big win over Valparaiso and has won two of its last three.
Oakland — an NCAA Tournament team in 2010 and 2011 and a CollegeInsider.com Tournament semifinalist last year — is led by junior guard Travis Bader, who’s averaging 19.6 points and three rebounds per game, and sophomore big man Corey Petros, who’s chipped in 14.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per outing.
After tonight’s game, WVU will host Radford on Saturday at 4 p.m. before some time off for Christmas. On Dec. 30, the Mountaineers will return to action at home against Eastern Kentucky.
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