MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – For the first time in his collegiate career, Jalen Bridges will take the court at the WVU Coliseum as a member of the opposition.
Bridges played three seasons with the Mountaineers before transferring to Big 12 foe Baylor after the 2021-22 season.
“It will definitely be interesting to be on the other side of the home crowd because it gets loud in there,” Bridges said.
He will lead the Bears into battle Wednesday night against West Virginia, and even though he will be a visitor this time, the Fairmont native is still anticipating a feeling of home.
“I had 19 tickets that I put in to be exact. There will be a little Jalen Bridges/Baylor section,” Bridges said. “All my family and friends that I wanted to be there will be there cheering us on.”
The junior forward has started all 15 games in his first season as a Bear. He’s fourth on the team in scoring with 8.9 points per game and is the second-leading rebounder with 4.8 per contest.
While much of the outside chatter ahead of the game has been centered around Bridges’ return to the University City, if you ask Bob Huggins, it isn’t the main storyline.
“Not unless you make it one,” WVU’s head coach said Tuesday.
He admits it is a unique aspect of the game, but the hall of famer only has one thing on his mind, and that’s snapping his team’s three-game skid.
“Honestly, I haven’t paid all that much attention. Obviously, I have here as of late because we are playing them, but I haven’t paid much attention,” Huggins said. “Everybody’s got to do what they got to do. I’m past the point in my life where I worry about it. I mean, why would I? I’ve got enough on my hands trying to get these guys to win some games. I’m not worried about someone else.”
As far as scouting the Bears, it’s also another position group that has Huggins’s full attention.
“They have for, as long as I can remember, relied on their guards. Their guards are good and take the vast majority of their shots. I’m trying to figure out how we slow their guards down,” Huggins said.
Keyonte George, the Big 12’s Preseason Freshman of the Year, leads the team in scoring with 16.8 per game, while redshirt senior Adam Flager is right behind at 16.7.
Junior LJ Cryer is the third player averaging double figures with 13.8 points per game, and he put up 25 in his last visit to the Coliseum, so it’s easy to see why the guards are a main concern.
In Bridges’ final season at WVU, the team went 0-2 against the Bears in the regular season, but even he realizes this is a much different Mountaineer team than the one he played with last year.
“They are closer to the identity of a Bob Huggins team than my last team, last year’s team. We were more five out, like four out and one in, and they are back to his offense,” Bridges said. “Playing tough nose, hard nose basketball. It’s basically as close as you can get to a Bob Huggins basketball team.”
His knowledge of Bob Huggins basketball could be used as an advantage this time around, but Bridges knows the Mountaineers are thinking the same thing about seeing him on Wednesday.
“Obviously, they are going to put in new things, but I still know all the actions. I know all the callouts, so it’s a little bit of an advantage, but at the same time, they know what I do and am capable of,” he said. “It’s going to be a dog fight, honestly.”
What will make it even more so: both teams enter 0-3 in Big 12 play.
West Virginia and Baylor clash at 7 p.m. on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.