After being left home for last weekend's trip to Brooklyn, Aaric Murray returned to West Virginia's lineup Wednesday and delivered one of his best performances as a member of the Mountaineers -- 12 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and four assists in a win over Oakland.
MORGANTOWN - Aaric Murray didn't want to talk about the past, preferring instead to focus on the present.And why not? By late Wednesday night his present was a whole lot more enjoyable than his recent past.No, Murray wasn't able to erase the fact that a few days before he had been sitting at home watching West Virginia's basketball team play No. 3 Michigan. But he was able to begin making amends for his transgressions.And following his best all-around game as a Mountaineer in a 76-71 win over Oakland Wednesday night, he admitted that he was fairly motivated by what had happened.
"It was a little bit of that,'' Murray said. "That and you don't want to miss another trip. So I've got to make sure I do what I have to do to play.''What Murray did against Oakland was rather remarkable. He had 12 points and 10 rebounds, blocked five shots, had four assists and generally was the best player on the floor as WVU (5-5) snapped a two-game losing skid to get back to .500.In a game that was rather torturous to watch at times, the 6-foot-10 transfer from LaSalle was smooth. He ignited a 23-7 run midway through the second half that enabled the Mountaineers to make a game of it after trailing almost throughout, then was involved in just about every play down the stretch."Aaric's an amazing player,'' said teammate Keaton Miles, whose pair of 3-pointers helped fuel that second-half run. "And when you get him giving his all and going all in, you get a night like [Wednesday night].''But then there are the other nights - and days - when Murray isn't all in. That's apparently what happened to him last week when coach Bob Huggins simply left him at home when the Mountaineers went to Brooklyn to face Michigan."I really don't want to talk about anything that happened,'' Murray said. "I'd rather just put it in the past and look forward.''Huggins would prefer to do that, too, but that's not up to him. As long as Murray stays on the straight and narrow and works hard, Huggins won't have any complaints. To date, though, that hasn't been the case."Honestly, Aaric will have a couple of good days and then he'll have a real bad day,'' Huggins said. "He kind of mirrors our team in a lot of ways. He can't handle prosperity.''If he can learn to do that, though, and stay in Huggins' good graces and on the floor, it will certainly be a huge help to a West Virginia team that desperately needs to string together some good games before the start of Big 12 play. They get another chance with a 4 p.m. game against Radford at the Coliseum on Saturday, then a final pre-conference home game with Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 30.Murray's availability and performance has become even more critical of late because he is really the only big man West Virginia has who is playing well. Senior Deniz Kilicli has put together a string of simply awful performances since his 21-point outburst against Marshall. In the four games since then, Kilicli has 11 points and is 4-for-18 shooting. Kilicli has started every game, but that's not likely to continue given that Huggins benched him for all or most of the second half of the last two games.Kevin Noreen hasn't stepped up, either, with just six points and eight rebounds in the three games since his 14-point, 12-rebound day against Virginia Tech.
Murray, though, showed he could do a little bit of everything against Oakland, making a 3-pointer and at times dominating defensively. He certainly has the talent to keep it going if he can just stay in the lineup and out of Huggins' doghouse. He knows how important the latter is."I've been hearing that since I got here, that he's not going to take it from you,'' Murray said. "He's had great players before and he didn't take it from them.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1