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New Role, Different Challenges for Bridges Heading into Season

Entering his sophomore season at WVU, Fairmont native Jalen Bridges will be looking to take a big leap in 2021.  In his first season of action in 2020-2021, Bridges averaged 5.9 points per game while shooting 49.6% from the field.   

Bridges was just trying to find his way on the court in the early parts of last year, but when former 5-star talent Oscar Tshiebwe abruptly left the program, Bridges was forced into action.  In his first start, Bridges showed what he was capable of, as he scored 19 points in a losing effort at Oklahoma.  West Virginia was trailing by 20 points at one point, but the smooth three-point shooting from Bridges allowed the Mountaineers to put a wild comeback on the Sooners. 

After the game, Bridges became a starter for the rest of the season.  Jalen had a couple of other standout performances, including a late season home game against TCU.  The Mountaineers were flat most of the night and struggled to score, except for Jalen Bridges.  Bridges shot the ball well from three-point range out of the gate and was the offensive spark for WVU the whole night.  He finished the game with 22 points off while shooting 4-6 from beyond the arc.  Bridges also grabbed 12 rebounds in the effort, which solidified his first double-double.   

Ending the season last year, Bridges shined in his first NCAA Tournament game.  In a Mountaineer victory against Morehead State, Bridges contributed with 15 points off 6-of-8 shooting with six rebounds. 

Additions of talents like Bridges and Isaiah Cotrell provide WVU with long, athletic players that can shoot the ball at a high level.  When Bridges made his way into the starting lineup last season, Mountaineer fans saw just how good the offense can be when it’s spread out, as opposed to a more high-low approach with two big men in at the same time. 

As the 2021-22 season quickly approaches, Bridges will be looking to show the improvements he’s made in the offseason. 

How does Bridges think his game is different from the start of last season? 

“I would say now I’m kind of used to the physicality… I’ve seen everything and I’ve played on the biggest stages.  I’m way stronger than I was,” Bridges said. I have way better ball skills.  I feel like I’ve just rounded out the weaknesses in my game and turned them into strengths.” 

What were those weaknesses that Jalen says he has turned into strengths? 

“Ballhandling.  Creating off the dribble for myself and my teammates and I would also say finishing at the rim.  I’ve kind of gotten way better at that and absorbing contact,” Bridges said. 

With Bridges being a bright spot for Coach Huggins’s team in his freshman year, he’s going to have to move into a bigger role for this upcoming season.  With the losses of Miles McBride and Derek Culver, Bridges is going to have to step up and be a leader, despite only being a sophomore. 

“Last year I was just filling a role, filling the gap that we had at the four position.  This year, he (Coach Huggins) has told me that he needs me to be more aggressive, look for my own shot, and also use my shot to create for myself and my teammates,” Bridges said. 

Bridges was also asked about how he becomes more consistent heading into the season. 

“I feel like last year when I would miss shots and all that, I would get down on myself.  I’ve really developed a ‘next shot mentality, next play mentality.’  If I make a mistake, screw it.  Just move on because it’s a forty-minute game,” Bridges said. 

Bridges, who changed his number in the offseason from No. 2 to No. 11, put up 21 points and eight rebounds in the Gold-Blue debut game on Friday night.   

Look for Bridges to take that next step for West Virginia this season and potentially become the Mountaineers’ best player. 

(Top Photo: Dale Sparks)

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