WVU looks for victory in battle on the boards
CHARLESTON -- For years, the Capital Classic men's basketball series between West Virginia and Marshall had been full of extremely close contests.
Eleven of the last 14 meetings between the state rivals were decided by less than 10 points.
But, in the most recent meeting (Jan. 18), the Mountaineers led by seniors Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant marched into the Charleston Civic Center and dominated the Thundering Herd en route to a 16-point victory.
With a talented and experienced Marshall (5-3) team hungry to avenge the loss, WVU (2-3) knows it is going to have its work cut out for it in order to come away with its sixth win in the last seven meetings Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
"We've been practicing hard, everybody knows this will be a good game," said senior forward Deniz Kilicli. "Marshall's a good team. They always play really hard against us, and they always have good players."
If the Mountaineers want to have success against Marshall, coach Bob Huggins understands that his team is going to have to survive the battle on the glass. The Thundering Herd has been one of the nation's best rebounding teams, outrebounding opponents by close to seven per game.
Marshall coach Tom Herrion's team features two of the best rebounders in the nation in seniors Dennis Tinnon and Nigel Spikes. The frontcourt duo both average more than nine rebounds per game, while WVU's frontcourt tandem of Kilicli and junior Aaric Murray are averaging more than 13 rebounds per game.
The Mountaineers are 2-1 in games when they outrebound their opponents this season.
"They're a terrific rebounding team. I think, in their five wins, they've outrebounded their opponents by 12 per game," Huggins said. "We haven't outrebounded anybody. We don't outrebound ourselves in practice."
West Virginia is looking to win back-to-back non-conference games for the first time since last December and get back to .500 with a victory in what Huggins is sure will be a hostile environment at the Civic Center.
But for that to happen, the Mountaineers will look for Murray to continue to improve after a slow start to the season.
The 6-foot-10 center has been limited to just 21 minutes per game through the first five contests because of foul trouble and struggles with getting back into game shape after suffering a few setbacks along the way in the preseason. He's coming off his best game of the season, however, as he finished with 13 points and nine rebounds against VMI last Wednesday at the WVU Coliseum.
"Aaric hasn't scratched the surface of what he can do," Huggins said. "It's different being out there in practice and being out there in a game."
Kilicli has also had some struggles to get going offensively the way he did at the start of his junior season. After scoring in double figures in his first five games as a junior, it took Kilicli until the third game of the year to get into double figures this season.
But a big reason for that can be because of the extra attention on the Istanbul, Turkey, native with the departure of Jones.
"He's the focus of the defense now and he wasn't before. Everybody now comes in and worries about guarding Deniz close to the basket where before they were worried about KJ," Huggins said. "Now Deniz has been the focal point of what everybody wants to stop and, quite frankly, Deniz doesn't use everything he has.
"A lot of times when you get pressure, you revert back to what you think you do best and they know that after watching four years of tape, they know what that is."