- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

WACO, TEXAS (AP) - Melissa Jones is doing something Brittney Griner knows she can’t do.

Griner, Baylor’s 6-foot-8 sophomore standout, closed her right eye and tried to shoot a jumper during a recent practice. Then she did the same thing from the free throw line.

“I kept like sneaking it open, trying to get a peek real quick,” Griner said. “It’s really hard.”

Jones, the gritty senior known as “MJ” and long admired for her hard-nosed play, has been without vision in her right eye since hitting her head on the floor going for a loose ball 2 1/2 weeks ago at Oklahoma.

Yet there she is, protective dark glasses in place, still diving to the floor and playing extensive minutes for the top-seeded Lady Bears.

“I’m not the least bit surprised that she is doing this with effort and with toughness,” coach Kim Mulkey said. “I’m just amazed at the production on that floor with one eye.”

While her vision is still very blurry, Jones this week started getting some sight back in the eye. Doctors have said she will eventually recover fully as swelling around her optic nerve subsides, and a checkup Tuesday indicated that is still the case.

The Lady Bears (31-2), a Final Four team last season, play the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament at home. The Big 12 regular season and tournament champions play Prairie View (21-11) on Sunday night.

Like Mulkey, opposing coaches have long touted Jones, the senior captain on a team with Griner among seven sophomores and one of the two freshmen being the starting point guard.

Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly has declared himself “president of the Melissa Jones fan club,” saying every coach would like to have a player like Jones.

After Griner scored 29 points in a win over Michigan State earlier this season, Spartans coach Suzy Merchant said “Melissa Jones is why they’re going to win a championship. … She’s the glue to that team.”

A well-earned reputation for Jones, the 5-foot-11 guard who plays with an all-out tenacity that surely was formed somewhat by growing up with three older brothers.

“I might not be the most athletic on the team, but I can assure you that I’m going to work the hardest and try my hardest to get that loose ball or give our team an extra possession,” Jones said. “I just want to contribute, and I’m going to do the best that I can to make that happen.”

That is all Jones was doing when she went after a loose ball in a key 82-81 win Feb. 27. Oklahoma’s Whitney Hand also went for the ball and landed on Jones, whose head hit hard on the floor.

Jones stayed in the game, but over the next couple of possessions had a throbbing headache while the vision in her right eye started fading. She thought maybe her eye was swollen shut, but realized it was wide open and that she still couldn’t see out of it.

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