By Cam Huffman
West Virginia University head basketball coach Bob Huggins has said many times that he’s pretty much seen it all out of his team this season.
But on Monday night after the Mountaineers defeated Texas 60-58 in a Big Monday game on ESPN — marking WVU’s first back-to-back wins since winning three straight against Oakland, Radford and Eastern Kentucky to end the month of December, and its first back-to-back victories all year in Big 12 play — members of the media saw something they hadn’t seen from the veteran coach this year — smiles.
Twenty-two games into a 31-game regular season, Huggins finally saw his Mountaineers (11-11, 4-5 Big 12) playing the type of basketball he expected from them when the season began.
“I think we have a chance,” said Huggins in the postgame press conference, sticking with comments he made earlier in the week about his team still having a shot at the NCAA Tournament. “I think we’re getting better at guarding, and we have started to rebound better.”
Huggins, though, isn’t ready to put his stamp of approval on where his team stands.
“When you go through years like this, you learn the meaning of the old cliché, take them one at a time,” said Huggins. “There were other times we thought we turned the corner, and then we took a step back.”
But a couple of individual performances at least have given the coach some hope.
Freshman guard Eron Harris is living up to his potential.
Harris reached double figures in scoring only four times in his first 14 games, but he’s reached that mark in six of the last seven, including 19 against TCU, 18 against Texas Tech and 17 against Oklahoma State.
His confidence is growing with every game.
“More importantly, his teammates have confidence in him,” Huggins explained. “They’re looking to get him the ball.”
The other big difference is the play of senior forward Deniz Kilicli. Considered to be one of the team’s biggest threats when the season began, the Istanbul, Turkey, native went through a stretch where he was barely seeing the floor. Over the last five games, though, he’s reached double figures three times, including a 14-point performance Monday night against the Longhorns.
“I thought he was terrific — so much more active,” said Huggins. “He does a great job of sealing people. We don’t do a great job of getting him the ball, but I think the last two games were the best two all-around games that Deniz has played.”
If Huggins’ club is going to make a run, the schedule sets up perfectly. It’s going to take some head-turning wins to grab the attention of the NCAA Selection Committee, and those are on the schedule — at No. 13 Kansas State (Feb. 18), at home against No. 22 Oklahoma State (Feb. 23) and at No. 5 Kansas March 2 — but there are also some very winnable games.
WVU will be at TCU (9-12), which is 0-8 in Big 12 play, on Saturday and then make the trip to Baylor (14-7) on Feb. 13. The Mountaineers will also get another meeting at home against Texas Tech (9-10) and will face Oklahoma (14-7) for the third time this season on March 6.
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