MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Gary Browne spent 38 minutes diving, jumping and clawing for the basketball Thursday night and played pretty well in the starting lineup in place of Truck Bryant.You knew this not because of the 12 points, five assists and three steals the freshman from Puerto Rico contributed to the 18-point win on Pitt's home floor, but because of the inch-long cut under a left eye that was beginning to swell and show some purple."No, that's from practice," he said. "We've been practicing so hard we get black eyes, we get in arguments against each other, all that type of stuff. Practices like that make the games better."What looked like evidence of a physical game and an emblem for the way the gritty point guard likes to play was actually proof this team is making a literal push for its postseason potential.
The days between the home loss to Louisville and WVU's largest margin of victory on the road in the Backyard Brawl in 45 years was good for many of the Mountaineers, including Browne.He'd been scoreless once and in single digits four times in the past six games and only once shot better than 33 percent. He made 4 of 8 shots and twice scored on offensive rebounds against Pitt. "We want the NCAATournament," Browne said. "Right now we'll take this game-by-game. We've got five more games - a tough five more games. This one is over with so we need to think about the next game, Notre Dame, and play out there the way we played (Thursday)."
Sometimes the Mountaineers (17-10, 7-7 Big East) need a reminder and WVU Coach Bob Huggins won't miss such an opportunity.That's how little room for error WVU has left after losing five of six.In the second half against the Panthers, the Mountaineers led 40-33 when forward Deniz Kilicli worked his way out of a small crowd inside the zone defense and missed a shot near the basket.Kilicli looked around and wondered if he was fouled and then jogged to the other end of the floor.The Panthers were already on their way and point guard Tray Woodall went at the basket and the space Kilicli would have occupied had he not been several steps behind the play.
Browne tried to take a charge, but was too late and ended up fouling Woodall, who made the layup and the free throw to cut WVU's lead to 40-36. Huggins quickly sent in a substitute for Kilicli, who listened to a quick, curt lecture from Huggins."Honestly, I didn't think he got fouled," Huggins said. "And we're in a position where we need to value every possession. We've lost a bunch of games here lately because we haven't valued every possession."
Woodall's score and the energy it gave the home crowd was the only threat the Panthers made in the second half and the Mountaineers handled it expertly by scoring 12 straight points. Kilicli sat for just 48 seconds and had a mean dunk and a free throw on the second possession after his return."Truck, Deniz and I need to take it upon ourselves as upperclassmen not to let the underclassmen slip up and make sure we all keep playing hard and playing together," forward Kevin Jones said. "That's how we won. We've got to keep playing hard every possession."After the run put the them ahead 52-36, the Mountaineers spent the final minutes of the game walking to the free-throw line and making foul shots, something they hadn't done all too well in key spots.WVU, which has missed at least 10 free throws in seven games this season, was 18-for-19 and scored 12 of their final 14 points at the line. The exception was an inside score by Kilicli, who finished 6-for-10 on a night he knew he'd have an advantage against a smallish Pitt team. "What happens in this league is everyone is pretty much a mismatch for me," Kilicli said. "If I go down and find my balance and post up, everyone is a mismatch and those guys can't guard me. I've realized that and worked on some stuff since the Providence game and scoring is pretty easy."Including his career-high 22 points against the Friars, Kilicli is averaging 17.3 points and has made 30 of 47 shots the past four games.
"We're just trying to win games, man," Huggins said. "That's why we want to throw it close to Deniz and K.J."WVU plays at No. 23 Notre Dame (19-8, 11-3) Wednesday and looks to snap a 10-game losing streak at the Joyce Center. WVU then plays host to No. 12 Marquette (22-5, 11-3) before finishing at home against DePaul (11-15, 2-12) and at South Florida (16-10, 9-4).The Mountaineers are in eighth place in the Big East standings and on line for a one-round bye in the conference tournament. They're No. 34 in the RPI and the strength of schedule is No. 6"We know we need to win games," Huggins said. "We've done what we're supposed to do in terms of scheduling. We've just got to win some games and we fully realize that."Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org
or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.