Individuals don’t win games for WVU; total effort and selflessness do
Just ahead for West Virginia was a minefield of teams all readying for the NCAA tournament. Winning against any one of those four teams was going to take a quality game with decent shooting, contributions from near and far . . . and a sizable effort from every player involved.
Any player might have a poor shooting day and may even be overmatched defensively a time or two.
But effort should never be a question. Try as hard as you can! Try as hard as you can!.
Leaving the dull winter grays of snow-choked Morgantown for the sun and 60 degrees of Gainesville, Florida should cheer any basketball player’s outlook.
Holding a 17-3 record and a Top 10 national ranking should mean playing hard on national television would be a comfortable situation for West Virginia’s Mountaineers.
It could have been Florida and its 13-7 overall record, playing outside its conference, that might have lagged in energy.
The Mountaineers formed their usual pre-game huddle on Florida’s side of the court. The players swayed back and forth in a ritual that seems to be designed to make sure everybody is ready to hustle, be all-in for what’s best for the team and give the Gators a dose of age-old Mountaineer blood-sweat-and-tears magic.
But starting forward Jonathan Holton is indefinitely suspended. Has that cast a uniform pall over the entire team and its attitude about being asked to play a 12-noon game?
Florida jets out to a 24-10 lead. West Virginia’s only worth-while card — its oft-vaunted fullcourt press — is all but useless. There is a serious West Virginia spurt that brings the Florida lead back to four points. But the Gators weather the Mountaineer move, continue to discard the press like it was an out-of-style fad from the 1970’s and cruise away to an 88-71 win.
It’s obvious some players didn’t give the energy and hustle they had in them.
Is Holton such a team leader and cherished figure by all his teammates that his absence caused a general feeling of support for him that hustle and effort would be withheld because he was missing?
Players look at their statistics and those same statistics of their teammates.
Without Holton, where was an upgrade in individual performance going to come from that it would take to beat Florida on its home court?
Nathan Adrian was shooting 42.9% from the field and 38.5% on three-point tries. He was making 61% of his free throws and averaging 2.6 rebounds a game. Adrian did score 10 points against Florida. But who would have thought his past performances were going to cancel/erase Holton’s absence?
Esa Ahmad played 22 minutes. Entering the game, Ahmad was making 41 percent of his field goal attempts and 14 percent of his three-point tries. He was converting 51% of his free throw attempts, while scoring 4.5 points and getting 2.9 rebounds. Did any Mountaineer player think that riding a rising game from Ahmad would tame Florida?
Elijah Macon was making a dismal 43.5 percent of his free throws, getting 3.8 rebounds and scoring 5.7 points a game. He played 14 minutes and did not score at all while getting called for three fouls.
Teyvon Myers was the leading junior college scorer in the nation last season. Myers came to Gainesville making 30.8 percent of his field goal tries, 28 percent of his three-point efforts and 66.7 percent of his free throws. Did the others see him as the crusader that could slay the Gators?
Brandon Watkins is 6-foot-9 and two inches taller that Holton. Could he, with his 33 percent shooting on free throws, one steal on the season and four assists to nine turnovers ratio, ignite the spark heard ’round north Florida?
None of them leaped into the breach and brought West Virginia back to Morgantown with a win.
West Virginia was making 65.6 percent of its free throws before the Florida game. Who could have believed the foul line could save them?
The Mountaineers don’t win without causing a disruptive flow to any game. They may not make steal after steal or cause turnover after turnover, but the quick pace can enable them to get more rebounds, attempt more shots with the offensive rebounding advantage they hold and sap the energies of teams playing only eight, nine or 10 players.
Lamont West, a freshman, had never played in a game all season. Coach Bob Huggins even put him in for a minute against Florida, so desperate was the situation.
And after the Florida mess, the Mountaineers were going to see Iowa State on the road, Baylor in Morgantown and then Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse where Coach Bill Self’s record is 201-9.
Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas are all ranked in the Top 20 in the nation.
Will Esa Ahmad, Elijah Macon, Teyvon Myers, Brandon Watkins or Nathan Adrian shed their street clothes and become Superman for those three games? Or will West Virginia need all the enthusiasm, selflessness, all-out hustle and team-wide contributions to compete against that elite list of teams . . . that will all try hard against the Mountaineers?