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The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team opened conference play with a 79-64 win versus South Carolina Saturday, and sophomore forward Terrence Jones appears to have left his recent poor play behind with the non-conference schedule.
Jones led UK with 20 points on 8-9 shooting with his only miss coming on a three with less than one minute left in the game. The performance as Jones’ second-highest point total of the season and first game with more than 10 points since a 14-point effort against North Carolin on Dec. 3.
“I told him after the game, ‘Now you work even harder than you’ve been working,’” said UK head coach John Calipari. “I said, ‘Do you want to go back to where you were?’ He said, ‘No.’ You know you’ve got to work harder than you’ve been working.”
“I think the extra workouts, extra treatments, preparing myself, playing with confidence and being less afraid to hurt my finger all helped a lot,” Jones said.
UK shot 59.2 percent (29-49) percent for the game and never trailed by less than 12 in the second half. When South Carolina cut the lead to 60-48 with 8:04 left in the game, the Wildcats went on an 8-0 run to put it out of reach for good.
“Let me say thins about South Carolina: didn’t go away, playing the way they have to play to win, had a lot of young kids playing well and they’ll win games in our league,” Calipari said.
UK was aided by a strong performance from freshman point guard Marquis Teague, who scored 17 points and dished out four assists.
“This was a hard game to be a point guard,” Calipari said. “That zone they were running was confusing, and we had to do four or five different things to get the ball where we were trying to get it.
“Marquis Teague played well. They pressed our press attack, our spacing was better. Instead of him trying to beat it, he was letting us try to beat it, and that’s the difference.”
Teague said he felt like the win was his best performance to date.
“I just played under control, didn’t force anything, took good shots and got people involved,” he said.
“He ran the floor,” Jones said. “He really let us start getting easy buckets by breaking the press and making sure everybody was in their spot before we started the offense.”
Jones credited Teague for part of his success Saturday, but Calipari said Jones also exhibited better effort than in recent games.
“He flew up and down the court,” he said. “When you run that fast, and you try to play hard, you’ll be aggressive offensively. When you are passive on defense and passive going for balls and you don’t want to mix it up, there is no possible way you can be aggressive offensively.”
Jones and Teague were joined in double figures by freshman forward Anthony Davis — who scored 12 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked seven shots — and sophomore guard Doron Lamb — who scored 10 points.
Davis posted his fifth consecutive double-double and ninth double-double of the season. He also moved to No. 6 on UK’s single-season block list with 74 through his first 16 games.
“I just go out there and do my job,” Davis said. “Coach Cal tells me what he wants me to do. That’s what I try to do. I don’t try to worry about all the stats or anything. Just go out there, have fun and play hard.”
Calipari said Davis and his freshman teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been so consistent, that at times it is easy to forget their contributions.
“(With) those two, every once and a while I go hug them and give them a kiss and tell him I love him,” Calipari said. “What else are you going to say to them? They just bring it every time we play.”
With himself and other players stepping up to match Davis’s and Kidd-Gilchrist’s effort, UK is in a position to get even better, Jones said.
“A lot of us gave a lot of extra effort,” he said. “A lot of guys dove on the ground, sprinted up in the full-court press like we were doing early in the season. I just think we were trying to get back to that team and everybody contributing and being aggressive.”
Jones said he though all of UK’s playmakers had stepped up at the same time at least once this season, but he knew most nights that wasn’t going to happen.
“It’s real difficult just because it’s basketball,” he said. “Everybody is not going to play their best every game. As long as we have enough guys and the majority of the guys playing and everybody playing as hard as they can, it will help us be successful as a team.”
Photos by Mark Boxley.