MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins compared sophomore forward Jalen Bridges to former Mountaineer Joe Alexander on his radio show Monday night.
Huggins noted that he hoped to see more of Alexander’s physicality out of the Fairmont native.
On Friday, Huggins was asked specifically about Bridges and redshirt freshman forward Isaiah Cottrell. He had a similar answer.
“Jalen’s got to be more assertive,” Huggins said. “Isaiah, he’s not physical enough yet.”
Bridges is in his third season on Huggins’ roster. He sat out his freshman year after an outstanding prep career at Fairmont Senior, during which he was named the state’s top player.
Bridges is currently third on the team in scoring, averaging 7.9 points per game. However, he’s been held to eight points or fewer in each of the last five games.
Cottrell, meanwhile, was a four-star athlete coming out of Huntington Prep, and was ranked as the No. 75 player in the nation by ESPN when he committed to the Mountaineers. He was limited to just ten games played last season, as his freshman campaign came to an abrupt end due to a torn Achilies.
However, Cottrell is averaging just 4.7 points per contest this year, and hasn’t rebounded the way that Huggins would like him to, either. He ranks sixth among Mountaineer players in rebounding average at 2.7 boards per game.
“He’s not as physical as you need to be at this level yet,” Huggins said. “He will be. I don’t have any doubt whatsoever that he will be. And he wants to be.”
The Las Vegas native averaged 18.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and two blocks per game in his one year at Huntington Prep, earning MaxPreps All-America honors. In his prep basketball days, Cottrell not only was dominant inside the paint, but also showed good ability to score from the outside.
“Not that he has to play exclusively [inside]. He doesn’t. But he has to be a presence there,” Huggins said. “He can be on the perimeter 75 percent of the time, as long as he’s making shots. If he’s making shots, that big then has to leave from in front of the rim and go out there with him.”
Between the two forwards, it’s been Bridges that has shown the ability to score from the outside this season. He’s third on the team with 10 made 3-pointers and is shooting over 37 percent from beyond the arc. He also leads the team in rebounds, averaging 4.9 per game.
Cottrell, on the other hand, has made just two 3-pointers this year, and is eighth on the team in overall shooting percentage.
But Cottrell isn’t the only Mountaineer struggling on the glass. It’s a team issue — WVU entered the weekend as the only squad in the Big 12 Conference with a negative rebounding margin.
“We have, from those front line guys, very little physicality. And if you’re going to be a really good rebounding team, no matter what anybody tells you, you better be physical. It’s physical down there,” Huggins said. “We have, to this point, avoided some sort of physicality.”
Just three games separate the Mountaineers from Big 12 play. One of those games will be played Sunday at the WVU Coliseum against Kent State.
After Sunday, the Mountaineers will play just two games in the 19 days separating them from conference play.
West Virginia opens the Big 12 portion of its season on New Year’s Day against No. 7 Texas, which is currently the second-worst rebounding team in the conference.