LUBBOCK, Texas — Getting set to face the top defensive team in the Big 12, maybe West Virginia has found something in its own defense.
With 6-foot-11 freshman Derek Culver playing at the top of it — acting just as much as a barrier than as a defender — the Mountaineers’ 3-2 zone gave them their best results in a while.
“We played hard and fought through screens,” Culver said following West Virginia’s 79-71 victory against Oklahoma on Saturday. “We disguised our 3-2, which kind of put them in a funk a little bit. That kind of sped them up a little bit. Our 3-2 kind of confused them and we were able to use our length and our size.”
For the first time in two weeks, WVU (10-12, 2-7 Big 12) held a team under 47.5 percent shooting.
Now, it gets back on the road to face No. 16 Texas Tech (17-5, 5-4), a team that thrives on defensive battles.
The Red Raiders are 12-1 this season playing in the United Supermarkets Arena, where they will host the Mountaineers at 9 p.m. today, and lead the Big 12 in scoring defense (57.8 pgg), field-goal percentage defense (36.6 percent) and 3-point field-goal percentage defense (27.5 percent).
They have lost four of their last six games — all four losses were on the road — including Saturday’s 79-63 loss at Kansas, in which Texas Tech trailed by 20 at halftime.
“Victory favors the team that was more aggressive,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “They were more aggressive than us the whole game, every possession, offense and defense.”
Texas Tech won the first meeting of the season, 62-59, but the Mountaineers went just 18 of 32 from the foul line after holding the Red Raiders to just 38 percent shooting (21 of 55) from the floor.
West Virginia now comes armed with its new zone defense and some momentum.
“I think we’re playing harder again,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “I told them before the game, we can’t throw the ball to them. If we limit our turnovers, and if we all play hard — not three of us play hard and two guys kind of go through the motions — but if everybody on the floor will play hard, we can beat just about anybody in this league. I think we can beat anybody in this league if we play hard.”
Huggins said the key to the zone may be Culver and his 6-foot-11 frame at the top.
“All the guys kept saying was they couldn’t see anything,” Huggins said. “That’s why we ran it, but really, they started to ball screen Derek, so they could see in behind him.”
Culver added his speed at the top of the zone helps the Mountaineers.
“I’m 6-11 and the fastest person on the team, so I feel like I can cover a wide range of the court at the top,” he said. “I have Jermaine [Haley] on the left and he’s 6-8 and I have Esa [Ahmad] on the right and he’s 6-8. Right there, if we all have our arms out, I don’t see anyone who wants to try and dribble through that.”