On Friday night, West Virginia men’s basketball beat Pitt 74-59 in the 188th Backyard Brawl. After the game Taz Sherman, Jalen Bridges, Malik Curry and Bob Huggins all spoke about the ability to turn teams over, what the rivalry win means, as well as the intensity of tonight’s game on the court.
Obviously, this game is a rivalry game. The WVU Coliseum was sold out and there was a certain type of energy the whole night.
Twice in the first half, loose balls led to small scuffles between the players on the court, but Sherman said West Virginia’s focus was just sticking to basketball.
“We talked to them (Pitt) during the game and stuff but it [wouldn’t] even be like altercations, it [would] just be little stuff. We just kept it basketball after that, just two teams competing,” Sherman said.
Huggins said many of his new guys came here to play in an environment similar to tonight’s. Huggins also said the older guys are good leaders and mentors and help get the team prepared for large games.
“We do have guys like Taz and Gabe and those guys that have been here and they’re really good. They’re really good about talking to those guys, on the floor, during a dead ball. If you watch the bench they’re talking to them on the bench, trying to help them,” Huggins said on the leadership with his team.
“But that’s what you come here for. You come here to play in front of 14,100 and play against teams that are ranked in the country and power five schools,” Huggins said. “You want a chance to play at the highest level of college basketball.”
The West Virginia defense forced 32 turnovers on the evening, after forcing 25 in their first game of the season against Oakland.
Bridges said this team knows that teams coached by Huggins are well known for their defense and the two point guards Malik Curry and Kedrian Johnson who had a combined nine steals.
“That (turning Pitt over) was kind of the game plan. As you guys know, Huggs basketball teams are known as being a hard nosed defensive minded basketball team,” Bridges said. “All we try to do is harass their guards, harass their bigs and just try to create turnovers by having super intense ball pressure. And I feel like Malik and Keedy especially did a great job today.”
Sherman had the same message saying, “our point guards are some pests.”
Curry said his role is just to play his hardest and try and bring ball pressure.
“At the end of the day we have to apply pressure on the defensive end,” Curry said.
Huggins said his two point guards are constantly applying pressure, which he thinks becomes hard for other teams to endure.
“Well Keedy is very good. His defensive pressure is very good. And Malik, he’s good. I think Malik gives us more of a shot on offense. He’s really good at getting to the rim,” Huggins said. “How would you like for one of those little guys go out and another one comes in after. I think they just really wear on people.”
Huggins said this type of style is what West Virginia is going to have to do to stay in games. He said this team is too small to try and compete with other play styles, therefore they have to play what kind of style gives West Virginia the best chance to win.
“I think this is how we have to play. We’re not big enough to slug it out with people. We’re going to have to make them play the way we play. We’re going to have to make them play faster. We’re going to have to make them put their head down and drive it at us,” Huggins said.”
No matter what players Huggins has or what type of style his team is playing, more than anything, Huggins just wants to win.
“We’ve played a variety of different ways since I’ve been here because I just want to win. I don’t need to write a book, I just want to win,” Huggins said.
It was a sold out WVU Coliseum and Fairmont, West Virginia, native Jalen Bridges knew what this game meant and these are the games he dreamed about as a kid.
“It means the world being able to represent this state at one of the highest levels in college basketball,” Bridges said. “And playing against Pitt, that’s the Backyard Brawl. It goes back years and years and years. Being able to get that going this year after we missed out on it last year because of COVID, it was a surreal feeling honestly.”
Photo by Dale Sparks, All Pro Photography