LEXINGTON - He’s now scored in double figures in six straight games and seems to be back almost fully recovered from the dislocated finger he suffered in mid-December that left him in pain as well as searching for points and rebounds.
Still, sophomore Terrence Jones has yet to silence his critics. That’s what happens when you turn down a chance to go to the NBA to come back to Kentucky vowing to become the top pick in the 2012 draft. He was also named Southeastern Conference preseason player of the year based on his sensational freshman season at UK.
Overall, he’s averaging 11.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He’s second on the team in blocked shots with 35 and also has 22 steals.¿He leads the team in charges drawn with five. In SEC play, he’s averaging 14 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game and shooting 58.1 percent (25-for-43) from the field.
Yet Jones knows whenever he has a lackluster first half like he did Saturday against Alabama (three points, three rebounds), his play will be questioned again. However, don’t forget he had 12 points and three rebounds in the second half of the 77-71 win and hit a key 3-pointer as well as two clutch free throws.
What did he do differently the second half?
“Just being aggressive and just not listening to anything besides my teammates,” said Jones.
But here’s what he said that indicated he has continued to mature even during a difficult stretch where his numbers dropped and fans questioned everything from his toughness to his attitude.
“I improved in the second half and helped us get the win I¿feel.That’s all I was trying to do. I learned from what I was doing in the first half to not do in the second half. That’s what I did,” he said. “I learned just about my in-paint scoring and when they were doubling (putting two men on him) and I didn’t have any turnovers off that in the second half like I did in the first half. Just playing harder. I knew what it was going to take to help us win.”
While he’ll never be the most physical player to play at Kentucky, he did bang with the bigger, stronger Alabama players the second half. Remember, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist admitted that Alabama’s interior players “were just stronger than us” and that’s not normally the type of game where Jones can excel. But he held his own.
“I think Alabama’s physical play did bother us in the first half when it came to us making one-footers and low post shots in the paint that we should have made and we missed. That could be the only cause of it,” Jones said. “All of the SEC teams are tough and they’re going to try to play us this way. But as long as we’re coming out with the win, it’s only going to make us better as a team later on in the season.
“This game was real physical on post-ups, rebounds, everything. Alabama always plays us that way. For us to just to come out with a win and learn from it, it’s all good. Both teams really competed and that’s what brought so much physical play, but that’s going to keep happening.”
“I think us going hard the last five to 10 minutes just simulated what we do in practice and lets us show it off in games,” Jones said.
Kentucky reached the Final Four last year despite going 2-6 in SEC road games. Kentucky has already won at Auburn and Tennessee and now plays at Georgia and LSU this week before returning to Rupp Arena again.
“These close games are more intense, but they are more fun to play in. The close games are not because we are not doing stuff we should. Sometimes it’s how the other team plays,” Jones said. “But it is fun to be out there and win these kind of games. That gives you confidence.”
Jones admits this year’s team is finding ways to win games that the Cats did lose last season before their last season surge.
“The games might not always be pretty, but all it takes is having toughness to gut out the win.¿I think that is what we are doing. We are executing down the stretch and really finishing games out strong,” he said.
“Alabama made shots, made physical shots. Their guards got in the lane and made tough shots and 3’s they don’t usually make. A lot of their guys had really good games. Usually, they don’t all play that well.
Every team comes at us like that because we have a target on our backs. But we just fought through it and won.”
He also agrees that last year, or maybe even earlier this season like at Indiana, he would not have had that resiliency himself to overcome a bad first half with a good second half.
“I think what comes with maturity is being able to forget about the first half if you are having a bad one and just play as hard as you can the second one. That’s what I try to do for my team now. It’s not worry about myself, but remember there are five of us out there and I have to do it for all of us,” Jones said.