Good, Bad and Ugly In Win

West Virginia's men's basketball team only opened its regular season with a 78-71 win over Oral Roberts on Friday, but what the 8,579 at the Coliseum saw was truly a microcosm of what this entire season may be like.

One reporter compared the game to "a roller-coaster ride." WVU head coach Bob Huggins said he hoped the ride stopped.

"They played really well at times, really hard at times," Huggins said. "And then they took plays off and weren't very assertive, got careless with the ball, forgot their assignments."

Indeed, were stretches of good play (perhaps even bordering on brilliant), particularly in the first 10:00, when the Mountaineers quickly jumped out to a double-digit lead on their highly-regarded mid-major opponents.

WVU wasted little time recognizing what a weapon it has in Deniz Kilicli, working the ball to the junior on its first possession and often enough to cause ORU's defense to start to send extra help.

It took advantage, particularly on one impressive possession early, when Kilicli felt a second defender coming and passed to freshman guard Gary Browne, who quickly tossed the ball along the baseline to an open Kevin Jones for a layup before the defense could rotate back into position.

There were other encouraging signs: an effective pick-and-roll using Kilicli as bait, a few well-executed fast breaks that resulted in easy baskets, a surprisingly solid press-break offense and Kilicli showing the ability to make a mid-range jumper.

And, perhaps most importantly, this team can make shots. It canned 58.8 percent of its field goals, the Mountaineers' best rate since a 2007 win over Auburn.

When Browne and fellow freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds teamed up for a perfect transition possession to give their team a 22-10 lead, it looked like West Virginia might actually roll.

But almost on cue, the Mountaineers reminded those who were watching that this is, at its core, a young team -- one that will experience considerable ups and downs during the course of this season.

The half-court defense, which had been nearly vise-like in strength early, began to wane. Foul trouble started to mount, first for Truck Bryant and then for Kilicli. Without two of the team's three veteran anchors, problems began to multiply.

There were times when this looked like a team relying upon six true freshmen -- appropriately so, since it is (with all six playing in the first half).

Even seemingly mundane plays, like an uncontested pass in the backcourt, were occasionally an adventure. Aaron Brown tried to pass it to Hinds after a rebound, but Hinds had already taken off down the floor and the ball bounced into West Virginia's bench.

Turnovers began to mount, both in the half court and against the Golden Eagles' full-court pressure defenses (both man-to-man and a 1-2-2 zone press). The motion offense, which worked beautifully early, returned to the stagnation that characterized WVU's exhibition loss to Northern Kentucky a week prior.

The foul troubles mounted further. Dominique Rutledge, who didn't even play in the first half, had three in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Pat Forsythe fouled out after only 14 minutes of play. Kilicli picked up a fourth.

And while the field goal percentage was encouraging, other statistics countered it. WVU was out-rebounded 37-24; its 24 rebounds tying for the third-fewest in the Huggins era in Morgantown. It committed 21 turnovers, many of them against that same ORU press it broke so well early.

The Mountaineers' lead -- as many as 14 points with 10:31 to play -- was withered down to four, then down to one when Warren Niles hit a 3-pointer with a little more than 2:30 to play.

But for all the ugliness, give West Virginia credit: it found a way to win anyway. Huggins switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense on the final possessions. It wasn't pretty.

"We played 1-3 with a chaser, which I've never seen," Huggins quipped.

It worked anyway. Oral Roberts had an open 3-pointer that would have tied the game, but missed. On a subsequent possession, defenders were totally out of position, but a Golden Eagles player was standing out of bounds when he caught a pass for a key turnover.

"We survived," Huggins said.

And on this night, facing an opponent favored to win its league just one week after losing an exhibition game to a Division II school, survival was just fine.

There was plenty of bad and ugly to work on, but enough good to give West Virginia a season-opening win it sorely needed.


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