LEXINGTON — Terrence Jones led Kentucky in scoring. He had a dunk, kept pace with the rest of his team and looked comfortable on the court.
“That's the Terrence that we know,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said following Kentucky's 79-64 victory over South Carolina Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Jones scored 20 points and was nearly flawless from the field in his best outing since dislocating his pinkie in Kentucky's 87-62 victory over Chattanooga on Dec. 17. Jones missed the next two games before returning on Dec. 28 against Lamar. Even though he was back on the court, Jones still struggled to regain his form and confidence.
He scored just 21 points in three games since his return from the injury, but almost eclipsed that total against the Gamecocks. Dating back to Kentucky's 73-72 loss to Indiana on Dec. 10, Jones had tallied just 25 points in his past five games. He did score 10 in his previous outing against Arkansas-Little Rock at Freedom Hall, but turned in his best performance Saturday since netting 26 points in an 81-59 win over St. John's on Dec. 1.
“It was just good to be out there with everybody and just playing better,” Jones said. “I just think the extra workouts and the extra treatments (helped) to prepare myself better and play (with) more confidence. Just being less afraid of getting my hand hit was just what I've been working on. I'm just trying to help my team and whatever I can do to help.”
Jones admitted that playing through his injury has been an adjustment. He felt a tingle on a dunk in the first half against South Carolina, but “just wanted to play through it.”
“I just wanted to continue to play,” he said.
He did just that. South Carolina's zone gave Jones an opportunity to freelance in the post. He took advantage of the freedom, connecting on seven shots on seven attempts inside the paint. Jones took two shots outside the post, connecting on 3-pointer during an 11-0 Kentucky run to close out the first half.
“The position I was in during breaks and on the zone offense is what they were giving me,” Jones said. “I just think we took advantage of that. Coach (Calipari) prepared us well for the press and the zone.”
A trey attempt by Jones made Calipari a “little angry,” but the Kentucky coach said getting Jones to “be aggressive more offensively, make baskets, make free throws at the end of the second half or first half.” was a positive turn of events for the preseason all-american candidate.
Jones said getting baskets against the Gamecocks in the post “wasn't difficult.”
“It was different and it wasn't physical when it comes to defending or going after (loose) balls,” he said. “I just think the way we executed and what we did in practice is why we got the win.”
Jones said the outing against the Gamecocks wasn't his best performance of the season, but is turning the proverbial corner.
“When my finger got hurt, I felt like my confidence got shot just because I didn't want to be aggressive, because of the pain and the problems I was having,” he said. “I wasn't playing like (my teammates) were seeing in practice before that happened. It just happened at the wrong time with me not having a good game (against Indiana).”
One player on Kentucky's roster - Anthony Davis - enjoyed having his sidekick back in the post.
“He makes the game a lot easier for me,” he said. “He is getting in the paint and getting rebounds. We will be an excellent team if he keeps playing like that. He is a weapon on the floor.”
Now that he's nearly back at full force, Calipari issued another challenge to his sophomore forward.
“Now, you have to work harder than you've been working,” he said. “Do you want to go back to where you were? You know you've got to work harder than you've been working.”
His return to full recovery began Saturday.