Two Sides

No other player on West Virginia's roster feeds off himself like Aaric Murray – and that's the two-headed monster with which West Virginia is dealing.

When Murray settles into his game, utilizing his length and outside shooting touch while forcing opposing players to both guard and score away from the basket, he's a major asset. When Murray becomes frustrated, he tends to take plays off and be out of position because of such. That bleeds into poor angles and decisions, which begets foul trouble and the downward spiral begins.

Against Kansas, however, the junior showed a bit of maturation lacking earlier in the season. Head coach Bob Huggins pulled the center early in the game after a lackadaisical showing on both ends.

"He was miserable to start the game," Huggins said. "Let's be honest. He was terrible. He was terrible defensively. He was terrible offensively. I got him out and he's sitting there. I said ‘If you don't want to play, just tell me. I'm good. But we're not going to do this.' And, to his credit, which I give him a lot of credit, he came back and played pretty good and played with some enthusiasm. And, for him, he played pretty hard. Earlier in the year, he probably wouldn't have responded that way."

There's the little nugget, the qualifier: For him. Murray is as up and down as any WVU forward/center with both interior and exterior abilities since Gordon Malone. Both have very similar styles, Malone being capable of taking over games with his athleticism and jumpshooting touch. He didn't have the range of Murray, but was powerful and possessed a better back-to-the-bucket game. Both have the length, touch, ability to run the floor and raw talent to create mismatches. And both ran hot and cold, so much so that despite their obvious skills, neither averaged more than 26 minutes per game.

Much of that was coach-player disagreement. The struggles between Malone and his effort and in-game decisions and what then-West Virginia head coach Gale Catlett wanted were well-documented. Malone could pout with the best of them. Catlett could be as crass as anybody. The same dynamic is at play with Huggins and Murray. Murray can be excellent. He can slack. He can emotionally fold. It's easy to do with a coach as demanding as Huggins.

"I feel like he will pat you on the back, but coach is not really one to make you big-headed," Murray said. "He doesn't want to please you too much, but he recognizes when you're playing hard and when you're not playing hard."

Murray, of now, has started just 10 of West Virginia's 20 games, and was actually left behind on the New York trip to face Michigan for indiscretions. Through WVU's 9-11 start, Murray is playing an average of 22.3 minutes – well under what he would be garnering if not for that "play hard" issue. Murray did better his season averages of 10 points and 6.7 rebounds against Kansas, hitting a career-high three three-pointers in five tries and amassing 17 points and seven rebounds. He was active. He hustled. He got into the passing lanes and turned an errant Jayhawk pass into a dunk. He stepped out and nailed threes. He fronted the post effectively, creating multiple turnovers via tipped passes. And, perhaps most impressively, he was a leader, both on the floor and bench.

Murray showed more positive emotion than ever. He cheered on teammates. He was continually off the bench offering instruction and praise. He was involved at a refreshingly deep level. He cared. And he turned instruction, regardless of delivery, into on-court performance.

"You can't let coach get to you if he's yelling," Murray said. "You have to listen to the message and not how he is saying it. I think I was listening to how he said it instead of what he was saying. I was getting frustrated and worrying about him instead of playing the game."

A common theme this season. It's certainly not easy being coached by Huggins at times, and it's perhaps especially difficult this year. Everybody's dissatisfied, a bit irritated and on more of a hair trigger than before. The ups and downs are going to come in increased frequencies, simply based upon team and coaching staff emotions of the season. But how Murray processes the message and relates it to performance will be a significant aid of hindrance to West Virginia the remainder of its season.

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