MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Any basket these days from West Virginia forward Derek Culver is nothing short of a war of attrition.
They come by powering through a double team, usually after spinning one way, then back to the other, just to create enough space to get off a shot that is rushed before more defenders show up.
His 69 free-throw attempts this season ranks third among Big 12 players, although WVU head coach Bob Huggins privately believes Culver’s attempts should be higher.
Publicly, Huggins stays away from the subject as much as possible.
“I just as soon not say anything,” Huggins said after the 17th-ranked Mountaineers knocked off Oklahoma State, 55-41, on Monday. “There will be a time when we can speak on it, but now is not the time.”
The reason? The Big 12 can fine athletic department officials or coaches and reprimand athletes for publicly smearing officiating.
In October, the conference levied a $25,000 fine against Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt after his comments about the officiating in the Texas Tech-Baylor football game.
Culver attempted a season-high 10 free throws — but only made three of them — against the Cowboys, who were quick to surround the 6-foot-10 forward whenever he had the ball near the basket.
“It was very physical, but that’s just something I’ve become accustomed to,” Culver said after the game. “Being in Big 12 play now, I had to match the physicality. I didn’t want to do to much and get myself in early foul trouble.
“I tried to weather the storm and match their blows. Every time they hit me, I tried to hit them back.”
That was something Culver felt he lacked in West Virginia’s loss against Kansas two days earlier.
He was held to just five points in 21 minutes against the Jayhawks and was 1 of 6 shooting from the field.
“Not saying that Kansas roughed me up or anything, but I need to take advantage of my size and speed,” Culver said. “Not every player who is tall has quickness. I felt like if I used my quickness and strength to go around them or go through them that it would play to my favor.”
The physical play against Culver didn’t just happen with the start of Big 12 play.
West Virginia’s first loss of the season, against St. John’s, saw smaller Red Storm defenders constantly harass and bump Culver throughout the game.
While he recorded a season-high 18 rebounds in that game, Culver was awarded just six free-throw attempts and his frustrations broke through in his body language before eventually fouling out.
The NCAA rules committee made a point of emphasis to referees this season in order to clean up physical play around the basket.
Culver has never publicly criticized officiating and has often said this season that he welcomes a more physical style of play around the rim.
Yet he leads the team with 44 personal fouls and his 45.5% shooting percentage is well below other Big 12 big men like Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (81.1%) and TCU center Kevin Samuel (70.0%).
The physical play may have taken a toll on Culver’s free-throw shooting, as well.
He hit 32 of his first 39, which all came before the St. John’s game. Since, Culver is 14 of 30 from the line.
“You may know better than me,” Culver said, letting out a deep sigh at the same time. “I just have to go back to the drawing board and keep shooting free throw after free throw. I felt like I was sped up today and couldn’t get into a groove. I couldn’t get out of my head today and I was dwelling on things I shouldn’t have been dwelling on.”