PITTSBURGH - Call it the dirty little secret that exploded into the open a week ago when West Virginia lost yet another game it had a chance to win and lost it late.Where was Kevin Jones?Normally - in fact, requisitely - front and center in all things West Virginia basketball this season, Jones all but disappeared when it mattered most in the Mountaineers' overtime loss to Connecticut in the Big East tournament.With 8:35 to play in regulation, Jones made his final field goal of the day and the Mountaineers led 53-45. At the 6:17 mark he made two free throws and it was 57-50. He had 25 points and eight rebounds and WVU was in control.
But then in the final 11 minutes - six in regulation and five in overtime - Jones had two rebounds and three shots. He barely touched the ball in the final four minutes of regulation and after that layup with just over 81/2 minutes to play in regulation he didn't take another shot until 92 seconds remained in overtime. And one of those three shots he took in the final 1:32 was a 3-pointer with four seconds to play that wouldn't have mattered anyway, what with WVU trailing by four.It's not the first time Jones' disappearance was critical. This is a team that lost eight games by a total of 29 points, a fact that Bob Huggins has pointed out more than once in the past few days.You know what, though? He's also been quick to point out that Jones isn't exactly a shrinking violet when the pressure is on. It's just not his fault, which Huggins alluded to when asked after that UConn loss and referred to a bunch of freshmen teammates who "don't know what the hell they're doing.''He's expounded on that thought lately, noting that Jones is not one to force things. The fact is, when games are tight at the end, opposing defenses gang up on the 6-foot-8, 260-pounder who led the Big East in scoring and rebounding. And so Jones in those situations does what he always does, which is try to find the guy who isn't being double-teamed and smothered.But as the Mountaineers prepared to play Gonzaga tonight in the NCAA tournament here at Consol Energy Center, it might be time for Jones to become a little more selfish. If the game is close and West Virginia needs offense, perhaps jones should force himself on the defense. Because trying to be a team player obviously hasn't worked all the time, or even most of the time.Maybe it's time for Kevin Jones to become more like Keyshawn Johnson: Just give him the damn ball.Still, there's a balance there between aggressiveness and selfishness."K.J. is not going to force things. He's not going to take bad shots. He kind of lets the game come to him,'' Huggins said Wednesday. "Really, when you look at it, a lot of what he does is off the offensive glass. The last game [after one of those offensive rebounds], he threw it out. He didn't have a good angle to score. He threw it out. Instead of throwing it back to him and re-establish, we shot it. I guess it's good if it goes in, but it didn't go in."But we've got to do a better job of getting the ball to him. At the same time, I don't want him to force things. I think he kind of did that beginning of last year, tried to be somebody that he's not. I think he's done a great job of playing within himself this year.''That might work at the end of games were Jones surrounded by a cast of supporting players who, as Huggins would say, had any idea what they were doing. When defenses collapse on Jones, someone else has an opening somewhere. Jones tries to find that someone. More often than not, even if he does, it doesn't work out. Witness that 3.6-point average scoring deficit in eight of 13 losses.Jones wishes some of his younger teammates would take the initiative, but he knows when games get tight they are all looking at him and Truck Bryant.
"As senior leaders, kind of a go-to guy, me and Truck are definitely out there to make sure we get the ball late in games, kind of demand it more. Our teammates have to do a better job of either finding us or taking advantage of, like you said, them denying us,'' Jones said. "I think our teammates kind of look around and look for us to do something instead of making their own play. I think it comes from both sides. We both have to do a better job.''Don't expect the attention paid to Jones tonight to be anything less than what it has been all season long. Gonzaga is well aware not only of Jones' reputation, but also his value in clutch situations. The Zags aren't going to let him beat them."By any means necessary, you limit his touches,'' Gonzaga center Robert Sacre said. "Keep him off the glass. He's boxing them out. He has a great talent of finding the ball, locating the ball whenever it goes off the rim. So we've just got to make sure that you keep a body on him at all times, be physical with him. I think we have a great game plan for him. I'm not too worried about it. I know he's going to come out and play his style of basketball. We'll be ready.''Hopefully Jones will be, too.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.