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WVU Plays Host To Florida In SEC/Big 12 Challenge

The Mountaineers (11-4, 4-3 Big 12) host the Florida Gators (9-4, 6-3 SEC) Saturday afternoon in Morgantown.

The Mountaineers bounced back from a two-week hiatus due to COVID-19 related protocols with back-to-back victories over Kansas State (Jan. 23) and No. 10 Texas Tech (Jan. 25).

Before returning to the court on January 23rd, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins cited conditioning, particularly for his big men, as one of his greatest concerns returning to play. A majority of the Mountaineers were in self-isolation for 14 days and unable to practice or work out.

West Virginia big man Derek Culver has averaged 27.2 minutes per game this season, but played only 18 in the Mountaineer’s most recent contest—a one-point victory over No. 10 Texas Tech. The 6-foot-10 junior finished just shy of a double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds, 6 of which came on the defensive end.

Huggins addressed endurance and stamina, which he revealed was a driving factor for Culver’s limited minutes against the Red Raiders.

“He looked like the old Derek rather than the new Derek, and I like the new Derek a lot better than the old Derek,” Huggins told media Friday. “He just wasn’t playing strong, he was playing straight up and down. Derek is so powerful when he is in an athletic stance. There’s a reason why shortstops don’t play baseball with their legs crossed or their hands on their hips. You have to be able to move. In Derek’s case, he has to be able to move and, in a lot of instances, move several people because there’s a whole lot of people grabbing him and holding him and pushing on him. It’s important that he’s in an athletic stance.”

Saturday’s game may very well come down to the battle in the paint between WVU’s Derek Culver and Florida’s Colin Castleton.

Following Florida star forward Keyontae Johnson’s frightening collapse at Florida State on December 12th, Castleton stepped up in a big way to fill the void. The 6-foot-11 junior controls the paint and has been a rebounding weapon, leading the Gators with 5.4 boards per game.

Culver told the media that he is prepared for the challenge and that he views his conditioning as a work-in-progress.

“I wasn’t really myself,” Culver said of his performance in the Mountaineers two contests after the team’s COVID-19-related interruption. “It most definitely took a toll on me. When I came back I wasn’t like myself. I could just feel when I was going up and down the court… my legs weren’t really under me. With that being said, I just have to keep playing and fight through it. I’m going to be alright. Like I said, I can feel myself coming back gradually…. If I don’t have my legs, my shots aren’t going to be there, they’re going to fall short.”

The Mountaineers and Gators tip-off Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. EST on ESPN.

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