Look for Fairmont's Jalen Bridges to be contributor this year

WVU men’s basketball player Jalen Bridges after getting a COVID-19 test in July.

MORGANTOWN — There will be a basketball season for West Virginia University this year, although it won’t include the much-anticipated Pitt game, and the route to getting there has been and still will be filled with S-curves, detours and road blocks, just as it has been since last March when the Big 12 and NCAA Championship were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The regular season will be limited to 27 games, 18 Big 12 games and nine non-conference games. Three of those games will be at an eight-team tournament in South Dakota. That originally was going to be the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, but that was canceled.

The Mountaineers will also play in the Big 12-Big East Battle, the Big 12-SEC Challenge and reportedly one non-conference game will be against Richmond.

But no Pitt.

“It’s been postponed, moved back, delayed, whatever. That’s not going to happen this year,” Coach Bob Huggins said.

Other non-conference games remain up in the air until the Big 12 announces its schedule later this month while play is scheduled to begin on Nov. 25 and the first home game anticipated to come in the first week of December.

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Getting to this point has been trying.

“The problem was we already had the schedule. We had to just about blow it up and start over again,” Huggins said. “It’s been as tough as I can remember, and I’ve been in this, what, 43 years.

Moving forward will be difficult over the next month as teams are allowed no exhibition game, no scrimmage as had been the case in the past.

“To most of us, I think the most disturbing thing is they took away a scrimmage and they took away an exhibition game,” Huggins said. “We’re going to go play three games in three days without playing against anybody else first. I think that’s not fair, to be honest with you.”

And they have to adjust to all this while dealing with the pandemic protocols.

“You can’t possibly, in today’s world, stay away from everyone,” Huggins said. “You’re going to have contact with people at some point in time. It’s been rough. It’s been a real tough deal. Our guys, I think, have handled it as well as they possibly can handle it.”

It’s caused problems but the players have done what they could to make the best of it.

“The guys have been good,” Huggins said. “It’s just a matter of we don’t seem like we get our entire cast for very many workouts for a variety of reasons. But their attitudes are great. This group, I think, gets along better, roots for and pulls for each other as well as any group we’ve had here in a long time, maybe since 2010.”

And that’s saying a lot, that group went to the Final Four.

“I think we’ve got some guys who know how to lay, I think a lot of these got a lot of experience last year and don’t want to go through what they went through then. I’m excited. I think we’ve got a chance.”

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Look for Fairmont Senior High product redshirt freshman Jalen Bridges to be a big contributor this season.

“He’s benefited a great deal, particular physically,” Huggins said. “He did a really good job in the weight room. He’s gotten stronger. He’s playing so much more assertively. I thought at the end of last year he was one of our better offensive rebounders.

“We need him to continue to do that and, if we can have that with the other two bigs, whoever it is, I think he’s capable. He’s a 6-foot-7, maybe 6-8 guy now who can make shots and stretch the defense. And he’s gotten much better defensively.”

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