Cover Story: Culver Records Double-Double In First Career Start
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Derek Culver arrived at the Coliseum on Saturday morning, he was greeted with a big surprise.
Picking up one of the game programs that they give out, he took a look at the cover.
“I was looking at myself. They had me on the cover,” he would say after West Virginia had finally found a way to win a game, beating Oklahoma, 79-71. “I’d never had that happen before and I was thinking, ‘What’s going on?’
The freshman would soon find out.
“Coach came up to me and said, ‘You’re going to start.’”
That, too, was a surprise, as Culver had not yet started a game at WVU but coach Bob Huggins had decided to stitch together his 14th different starting lineup of the season.
“It took me by surprise. I didn’t know it was going to happen. I didn’t think I was going to start any game this year. I was ecstatic,” he said.
You know who wasn’t ecstatic?
Lon Kruger, the Oklahoma coach, who had to watch Culver help WVU dominate the boards throught out the afternoon, hustling and being physical at every opportunity to grab 46 rebounds to 30 for the Sooners and completely controlling the offensive glass.
The result was 18 offensive rebounds for WVU — five by Culver, who would finish the day with 14 total rebounds, and seven for Esa Ahmad, who had 13. The result was WVU creating the difference in the game, outscoring Oklahoma, 27-9, on second-chance points.
Immediately, the thought comes to mind as to why Huggins had not started Culver in the past. True, he’s a freshman and true he was suspended for the first semester, but he is certainly the most talented player on the team and you’d think . . .
Well, there’s just one problem. Culver has a tendency in his exuberance to commit personal fouls and Huggins could see him getting two quick fouls in the beginning of the game, having to sit out much of the half, then taking a quick one early in the second half.
He would far rather have his best rebounder, his best inside offensive player for the last five minutes of the game than the first, so he protected him.
But when you’ve lost three straight and seven of eight, as the Mountaineers had, have your two best experienced players — Sagaba Konate and Beetle Bolden — out with injury, what difference does it make?
You have to find something that works and so Huggins threw caution to the wind and put Culver in right from the start.
He got 20 minutes out of him and he committed only four fouls while getting 13 points to go with his 14 rebounds, adding two assists and to steals while also playing outside on the point when Huggins unveiled a 3-2 zone defense that gave Oklahoma problems late in the game.
But it doesn’t mean he has to stop rebounding.
“I have to communicate with people on my left and right. If the ball moves to the right corner, I drop to the left. It’s just communication. It’s the feel of the game,” Culver said.
What made Huggins go to the 3-2?
“Necessity,” Huggins said. “We tried playing some other zones and we didn’t play them very well. I’m not sure we played the 3-2 very well, either. The ball screen hurt us. With Derek at the top, all the guys kept saying is you ust can’t see anything and that’s why Lon is a great coach.
“They started screening Derek, so they really can see to get the ball to other people.”
But what this game was all about was finding something that worked. Brandon Knapper came on gave them points, Wesley Harris added fire, and the Mountaineers cut down their turnovers to 12 and that, in the end, made the biggest difference.
“Turnovers are out biggest problem. If we can keep it under 12 or 10, we can play with anybody,” Harris said.