NEW YORK — For better or for worse, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins will take the reins off Beetle Bolden and let the junior point guard go at his best tonight in Madison Square Garden.
The same can also be said for hurting teammate Sagaba Konate, as the Mountaineers prepare to face Florida (4-3) — their first opponent this season against a Power Five conference — in the Jimmy V Classic.
Riding a four-game win streak against teams from smaller leagues, Huggins was able to hand out some valuable playing time to help develop younger guards such as Brandon Knapper and Jordan McCabe. Logan Routt stepped in as a starter for one game for Konate and then continued to play well in reserve during Wednesday’s 106-72 victory against Youngtown State.
All while Bolden’s left arm and Konate’s right knee got only as much time on the floor as needed to stay loose.
“They asked me why Beetle didn’t play more minutes,” Huggins began. “He didn’t play more minutes because we’re trying to get Knap and Jordan better. It’s the same way with Sags. We know what Sags can do.
“Logan deserves to play; he works his butt off. We have to continue to bring (sophomore forward) Andrew (Gordon) along. It’s not a matter of managing their minutes because of Sags’ knee or Beetle’s hand, it’s more trying to give those other guys minutes when we can get them minutes.”
That approach will change come for Tuesday’s 9 p.m. tip-off, as the Mountaineers (5-2) get an opportunity to see how far they’ve come over their last four games.
“Now, we’re getting into the rest of the way here, and we’re going to have to play our butt’s off to win,” Huggins said. “Obviously, those guys are going to play more minutes.”
In Bolden’s case that is more minutes for his straight-forward, never-think-twice approach. If there is a loose ball, he will dive for it. If there is an offensive foul to draw, he won’t hesitate to take it.
“You can tell when I’m out there that I try to make the hustle plays and try to show my teammates that I’m willing to sacrifice anything for them,” Bolden said. “I’m willing to sacrifice anything to win.”
Including his own body, which over the span of seven games, has already had a number of bumps and scrapes including stitches over his eye to a busted nose.
The junior from Covington, Ky., began the season with injured ligaments in his left hand — that caused by getting it caught in a teammate’s jersey while playing defense in practice. He missed the end of regulation and overtime of the season-opener against Buffalo, because his body shut down and began to cramp.
For good measure, he also missed one game at the Myrtle Beach Invitational after taking a charge that left his left elbow and upper arm swollen.
And he refuses to change his style of play.
“I just try to stay positive and I’ve been positive this whole time,” Bolden said. “I haven’t really been frustrated with what I’ve been through so far. I’ve been through worse, I know that. My mentality never lets me fold.”
His mentality won’t let him fold. It’s also made him the on-court, off-court leader of the Mountaineers. Huggins said he has tried to help Bolden and senior Esa Ahmad become the leaders of the team, but added Bolden’s sometimes lack of availability in practice makes it difficult.
Youngstown State coach Jerrod Calhoun, a former assistant at WVU under Huggins, said he can see it on the floor that Bolden’s play makes him a leader.
“He has to be the leader,” Calhoun said. “I spent a little time with Huggs and I think he has to be their guy. Esa’s a great player; he’s just quiet on the court. I think Beetle has to be that voice for this team, if he can get going.”
Ahmad is the only player on the Mountaineers’ roster who has played at Madison Square Garden. As a freshman, he played 21 minutes and scored four points in a 70-54 loss against Virginia. … Huggins called Florida an athletic team that hasn’t found its stride shooting against better competition. The Gators do play some defense, though, holding opponents to 62.4 points per game.