MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins is still waiting for a third scorer to emerge on his team.
Right now, Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil are shouldering the load as the only players averaging double figures. The head coach believes sophomore forward Jalen Bridges is the piece who can complete the trio, but hesitation is a big reason why he hasn’t filled that spot just yet.
“I think Jalen has been really good. Defensively, Jalen has done a really good job. He’s kept balls alive,” Huggins said after last week’s win over Kent State. “I repeatedly tell JB we need you to shoot the ball. It just can’t be Sean and Taz.”
Currently, Bridges is the team’s third-leading scoring with an average of 7.1 points per game. He has only hit double digits twice this season — a season-high 18 points vs. Pitt and 11 in a loss to Marquette.
Like the head coach said, it isn’t that Bridges is missing the shots and hurting his confidence, it’s the fact that he’s passing up shots and not giving himself a chance.
“I feel like I try to play a little bit too perfect sometimes. I feel like I don’t really take bad shots. I’m always looking for my teammates, trying to get everyone involved and I feel like sometimes I get kind of lost out there and disappear sometimes,” Bridges said. “Got to be more aggressive off the bounce, too. Try to get some finishes at the rim here and there but all around just being an aggressive basketball player. Even if that’s not me taking a shot. Even if that is me getting all the way to the rim, someone helps, throw a little drop off to the big, doesn’t matter. Just playing aggressive downhill basketball.”
Being more assertive and aggressive is something the coaching staff has tasked Bridges with, too. He knows he is doing other things well like rebounding and blocking, but he’s also aware there is one piece of his game that isn’t up the level it could be.
“Sometimes I get kind of lost in the mix out there. I’m doing other things well but I’m not really scoring the ball at the level I should be,” Bridges said. “I’m rebounding. I’m playing defense. I’m blocking shots. Doing the little things to help my team win but I feel it would be a little less on Taz and Sean’s shoulders if I could help them out with the scoring load a little bit.”
Bridges leads the team in defensive boards and is right behind Gabe Osabuohien in total rebounds with 53. He’s third on the team when it comes to blocks with 10. Half of that total came in the Pitt game alone. He has also appeared in the starting lineup in every game.
When you look at his numbers in the scoring category, however, it does leave more to be desired. Through four games in December, he has only recorded 14 points.
Last season, Bridges burst onto the scene at the start of conference play and finished with six double-figure performances. But that was when he fulfilled a bit of a different role — one that was forced upon him after forward Oscar Tshiebwe departed from the program.
Now, teams are aware of the threat he is, but that isn’t a challenge Bridges is shying away from.
“I shoot it at a pretty efficient rate, so they tell me basically just shoot it more. If you feel you are open shoot the ball,” Bridges said.