PoG: WVU - Pitt

In the end, even Deniz Kilicli's heroics weren't enough to propel No. 25 West Virginia past its arch-rival Pitt, as the visitors won the first of two Backyard Brawls 71-66 on Monday night. But without Kilicli's show-stopping performance, it could have -- and likely would have -- been a blowout in the Panthers' favor.


Deniz Kilicli.

Who else could it be?

For long stretches, it didn't look like the big Turkey native would ever miss one of his signature hook shots, making them with the regularity that made Kilicli's collegiate debut -- which came against the same Panthers at the Coliseum last season -- such a memorable game.

But the shots often fall for the sophomore, even if Monday night's 19 points marked a career-high for the center.

It was what he did at others times that had to have encouraged head coach Bob Huggins most.

Clearly at a loss as to how to defend Kilicli, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon saw fit to copy a tactic many others have used against the big man with great effectiveness this season -- sending a second man at the center as soon as he caught the entry pass.

Kilicli hasn't been the best passer in those situations, and that's putting it kindly. And while there were still a couple of head-scratching moments on Monday, he largely did better, quickly identifying an open teammate as the second defender ran at him and firing a quick and relatively accurate pass.

Of course, there's still work to be done. A man of Kilicli's size and stature shouldn't have only two rebounds after 26 minutes of play. But there are signs he is slowly picking up some of the nuances of the game of basketball.

Add that to his obvious offensive gifts, and Kilicli could become a difficult-to-handle player for just about any West Virginia opponent. But that will only happen with time. Monday night merely was another step in that direction.


  • Dalton Pepper

    If anything positive for WVU came out of Casey Mitchell's recent suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules, it is that Pepper appears to be playing with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence.

    The sophomore shooting guard only played 13 minutes. It's tough to come in cold off the bench and make shots -- something Pepper is certainly expected to do when he enters the line-up.

    Dalton Pepper
    But Pepper made good on his time, hitting both of the shots he attempted (both 3-pointers) and getting to the foul line and sinking both free throws to get eight pivotal points -- all in the second half.

    More importantly, the guard played within himself. He had two assists and no turnovers and did about as well as could be expected defending Pittsburgh guards Travon Woodall and Brad Wanamaker, among others.

    If not for Pepper's play in stretches, Monday night's game likely wouldn't have even been in doubt entering the final minutes. But as other Mountaineers struggled or found themselves in foul trouble, Pepper got a chance.

    He took advantage of it in what has to be one of the few encouraging signs Bob Huggins could take out of his team's second-consecutive loss.

  • Pitt's timely offense.

    Give the Mountaineers credit. There were times when the Panthers' lead burgeoned to four, five or six points in the second half. And time and time again, WVU made plays to again put itself in position to make it a closer game.

    But just as frequently, the Panthers answered, using back-breaking second-chance baskets to push their lead further and close the door on thoughts of West Virginia taking the lead.

    From the under-12:00 media timeout (which occurred with 11:17 left until a Gilbert Brown turnover with 2:47 left, Pitt didn't truly have an empty trip down court on offense at all.

    Some trips ended in only one free throw. But every time the Panthers had the ball, they scored at least a point before WVU got possession back.

    That was more than enough to hold off the Mountaineers' rally. It's what great teams do -- score when they need to. That in itself wasn't surprising. The fact that Pitt did it so many times in a row was what truly kept West Virginia from earning an upset win.

  • Honesty.

    Huggins could have said a lot of things at his postgame press conference.

    He could have said his players didn't do a good enough job of rebounding the ball, and that was why WVU lost. He could have questioned the officiating -- questionable as it was, at times -- and wondered what might have been if, say, the obvious foul committed against Kilicli in the final minutes had been called.

    He could have said Pitt simply made timely plays in the second half, or that his team's defense was uncharacteristically poor at stopping dribble penetration.

    All of those things are plausible enough. But Huggins had a different, more direct way to explain the results of the Backyard Brawl.

    "They out-manned us," he said. "That's what happened. They beat us to death on the offensive glass and drove it where they wanted to drive it. They just out-manned us."

    No sugar-coating. No blaming his players for getting beaten by, what most observers would surely agree, is just a better basketball team overall than the Mountaineers this year.

    That's why Huggins is so respected. He gave credit where it was due, even calling the way the Panthers play "refreshing" at one point in his press conference.

    It might not be the easiest explanation for WVU fans to swallow, but that doesn't make it any less true. Pitt is truly just a very good college basketball team.

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