West Virginia (11-2, 0-1 Big 12) was shorthanded heading into its Big 12 Conference opener against No. 17 Texas (11-2, 1-0 Big 12) Saturday.
The Mountaineers were without three players, including leading scorer Taz Sherman, and one of their top defensive players in Gabe Osabuohien, due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Bob Huggins spoke with the media afterwards. Here are the biggest takeaways
Missing Taz and Gabe
Huggins got right to the point when asked about playing Saturday’s game without one of the Big 12’s leading scorers.
“Obviously when you play without the best player in the league it’s going to affect you,” Huggins said. “He’s been the best player in the league so far. That’s going to hurt us. And then two other guys, who contribute a lot to us. It’s not going to be easy.”
Both Huggins and Jalen Bridges noted that the offense didn’t run as well as it normally does without those two key players on the floor. Sherman’s absence also allowed the Longhorns defense to pay more attention to other key contributors, like Sean McNeil.
“We are a much better team when we have Taz,” Huggins said. “It takes a lot of pressure off Sean.”
The head coach was asked when he expects to get Johnson, Osabuohien, and Sherman back. However, he said he’s not sure when they’ll be able to return to the fold.
“I’ve heard various scenarios, and I don’t know which one is the believable one,” said Huggins, who added he doesn’t have any say on when players in the health and safety protocols can return.
The future Hall of Famer later added, “I don’t know any more than you guys do.”
Jalen Bridges led the way scoring-wise
With Sherman out of commission, and more attention being paid to McNeil, Bridges stepped up to lead the Mountaineers in scoring on Saturday.
Bridges scored 18 points, which tied his season-high, and grabbed six rebounds.
“JB is good,” said Huggins. “I think he struggled because he wasn’t making shots. He spent time in the gym, and he’s been making shots in practice. And he obviously made shots tonight.”
Bridges said that he believes his performance will give him more confidence moving forward.
“I thought JB played well,” Huggins added.
Huggins on how players are handling COVID precautions
Huggins was disappointed with the way his team played Saturday, but he could not have been more complimentary of how his team has handled things as it relates to the virus.
“We’ve done everything we could possibly do,” Huggins said. “Our guys, by the way, have been fantastic. They’ve been fantastic in doing everything that we’ve asked them to do, in terms of the protocol.”
Huggins said all players and coaches wore masks on the plane, when that wasn’t required of them.
“They’ve been very compliant with everything that we have asked them to do,” said Huggins.
He was later asked how frustrating dealing with the virus has been, from a basketball standpoint.
Once again, Huggins was very matter-of-fact.
“We’re going to continue to do our job,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t change it. We just got to work exceptionally hard to get the best out of it.”
West Virginia committed 20 turnovers against the Longhorns.
“We’re not going to win turning it over 20 times, especially against teams like that,” Huggins said.
Huggins mentioned drills his team has done, and conversations they’ve had, since the start of the season.
“We have been very careless with the ball from the beginning. And we have talked about it, worked on it, got them on the toss back, did all the passing drills that I know of,” Huggins said. “And it hasn’t helped any. So we’re going to have to come up with something else.”