When Kentucky lost to Connecticut at the Final Four to end its 2010-11 season, Jones had 11 points and 15 rebounds. When Kentucky got to return to NCAA play Thursday, Jones went right back to work and had 22 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and one steal in an 81-66 victory over Western Kentucky University.
“We are a lot better when he plays like that,” said Kentucky senior Darius Miller. “He could have been doing that all season, but he just did not take it upon himself to dominate because we had other players doing things. But he can play like that all the time. He’s just doesn’t always feel that he has to.
“But he’s a huge part of this team, and when he dominates, we are normally at our best. His plays get us going. He knows a big dunk or drive or shot gets us going and gets us all excited. We are just a lot better when he’s like that.”
Jones had not had a 20-point scoring game since getting 27 against Louisiana State University on Jan. 28. However, he’s now scored in double figures in the last five games and nine of the last 10. Jones, who was 9-for-13 from the field with two monstrous dunks, has gone 60-for-107 (53 percent) from the field in the last 10 games. In NCAA play, Jones is 29-for-52 from the field in six NCAA games and averaging 12.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
“As a team, we wanted to come off real aggressive and just try to push the ball and get a lot more fast breaks than we were getting in the last few games. I think we got that just because Marquis (Teague) was pushing the ball and really opening up the floor for everything to happen,” said Jones, who had 13 points in the first 12 minutes. “I’m just being more aggressive on offense, just trying to attack the rim and just be more physical on offense and defense to get more rebounds. That’s what is helping us usually win games is getting more rebounds. So I’m just trying to help get more rebounds.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari had been urging Jones to not only be more physical, but to use his size and strength to finish more plays with a dunk. He had a follow jam in the first half and a running, right-handed slam on the fast break in the second half.
“It just goes with being aggressive and just running breaks and Marquis pushing the ball. I got one off him pushing the ball in for a layup, and I just crashed it and got it. And then off the other one, he was just pushing it down the middle and gave it back to me on the right side. So it was really all him that got me those two dunks,” Jones said of Teague, who had four assists and 12 points.
Calipari not only applauded Jones’ play during the game, he poured the praise on him after the game.
“He was a beast. That’s how we need him to play. I told him before the game, you just worry about rebounding, and your offense will happen,” Calipari said. “Last year at this time, we made a run in this tournament because he rebounded the ball like crazy. As a matter of fact, in the game we lost against Connecticut, he had 15 rebounds, and he was rebounding every ball. “Much better offensive player than he was a year ago, and now he’s still rebounding. I thought he did a good job defending pick and rolls where he had to switch out and do some things.”
Jones came back to Kentucky rather than go to the NBA where was projected as a potential late lottery pick after his freshman season. He was the preseason Southeastern Conference player of the year, but he’s now a complimentary player to freshman center Anthony Davis, the leader to win national player of the year.
“In the last month, he’s been terrific. I will tell you that, when he’s playing and then Anthony can go do his thing and doesn’t have to try to do everything, it makes Anthony even better,” Calipari said. “You also haveMichael Kidd-Gilchrist. And I keep trying to tell Michael, you don’t have to score a basket, just help us win. If you score, great. If you miss shots, don’t worry about it. “These guys, one thing I keep telling them, what do you do to help us win if you’re not making shots? But they’re helping each other. They’re lifting each other.”
That’s what Jones wants to keep doing.
“Whatever I have to do, that’s just what I do,” he said.
Kidd-Gilchrist says there’s not been a dramatic change in Jones’ play recently, but he has noticed one thing.
“Just attitude. He’s just ready to roll,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “He’s our leader on the court, and when he’s playing like that, we all have a lot more fun.”