MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — For his next trick, Bob Huggins just may take the nets off of the WVU Coliseum baskets just to get his players more focused on the rims.
Unconventional? Probably, but no more than practicing with a basketball with no air.
“It had air,” Huggins said to correct the information. “It just didn’t bounce.”
It is a true story from a recent WVU practice, in which players started the day using a ball with just enough air to hold its form.
The reason? Huggins has reached his limit in watching his players spend too much time dribbling the ball rather than passing it.
“It helped,” Huggins said after the Mountaineers registered a season-high 21 assists in Thursday’s 84-53 win against Austin Peay. “We’re not entirely fixed, but it helped.”
As the Mountaineers (8-1) prepare for Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against Nicholls State (6-4), Huggins has his thoughts on where those passes should go, too.
That’s where forwards Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe come into play.
Together, the two mountainous young men are combining for 22 points and 18 rebounds per game, stats that Huggins believes should be a little higher if only there were given more of an opportunity from their teammates.
“I felt bad for Derek and Oscar to a degree, because they’re in there posting and (defenders) are leaning on them and grabbing them,” Huggins said. “We need to get it to them.”
In West Virginia’s loss against St. John’s last week, Red Storm defenders constantly pulled and grabbed on Culver, much of which wasn’t called a foul.
Huggins took notice of Culver’s frustrations and told the forwards to get ready to become a bigger part of the Mountaineers’ offense.
Hence the flattened basketballs that forced passes instead of dribbles.
Just one problem: Culver and Tshiebwe still didn’t get the ball enough in Huggins’ estimation against Austin Peay.
“After what they went through (against St. John’s), we told them our guards are going to get it to you,” Huggins continued. “They didn’t get it to them. When we finally threw it into Derek, he made two great passes for wide-open shots. We have to reward them.”
Culver wasn’t requested for interviews following Thursday’s game, in which he was limited to four points and five rebounds on just five shot attempts.
It was clear by the expressions on his face during the game that the constant physical play was wearing thin, especially since the NCAA rules committee changed rules in the offseason to clean up physical play around the basket.
It’s likely Culver doesn’t agree that such changes have been enforced.
Huggins’ idea was to maybe have his players change roles in practice one day.
“I told our guys, ‘Why don’t we do this: Why don’t we put you down here and have somebody stick their knee up your behind, try to root you over to the corner and then take their arm and hook it over your shoulder? They’ll try to yank your shoulder around and get up underneath your armpit and hook you and try to pull you around.’
“See how guys like that and then have some guy standing out there and dribbling it and not even look to pass it to you.”
It’s an adjustment that will be a key against the smaller Colonels, who own an upset win against Pitt this season.
Nicholls features one player — junior Ryghe Lyons — who is taller than 6-foot-8, but Lyons averages just eight minutes per game.
The Colonels focus on 3-point shooting and feature former WVU player D’Angelo Hunter, who transferred following the 2107-18 season.
“We’ve got to be better at getting the ball inside,” WVU guard Jermaine Haley said. “When we get the ball to our bigs, a lot of good things can happen with open cuts to the basket and things like that. It’s just something that we need to keep working on.”
Nicholls State at West Virginia
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: WVU Coliseum
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Comcast 37, 843 HD; DirecTV 659; DISH 428)
RADIO: WZST 100.9 FM
POSTGAME COVERAGE: dominionpost.com