Terrence Jones peaking at the right time



Praise can be doled out to anyone after UK’s dominant 81-66 win over Western Kentucky to open the NCAA Tournament.

Anthony Davis was on Triple-Double watch again — he finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks, which set a new school NCAA Tournament single-game record with 7 blocks (the previous high was six, shared by two players, Jamaal Magloire and Nazr Mohammed, who set it in the same 1998 Sweet 16 game). Marquis Teague got the Cats to push the pace for a change, and the transition game made UK look like the team that ran through the SEC in the regular season. Doron Lamb returned to his hot shooting form, scoring 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

But it was Terrence Jones who impressed the most, scoring 22 points to go with 10 rebounds, and it is his improved play that bodes as well for UK as anyone.

“He was a beast,” Calipari said. “That’s how we need him to play.”

Fortunately for him, Jones is peaking at the right time.

Not only has his play improved, but it’s been sustained. He hadn’t recorded a double-double in his first 24 games. Since then, he’s notched four, including two in the SEC Tournament and then this one to open up the NCAAs. He’s one rebound against Florida in the SEC semifinals from having four straight.

“In the last month, he’s been terrific,” Calipari said.

Darius Miller said nothing has noticeably changed with Jones. No altered demeanor, no transparent extra motivation. He’s the same guy, Miller said. He’s just trying to dominate games.

He did that against WKU, controlling the game during the stretch when the outcome was still in doubt before other players’ statistics caught up with him in the later stages.

“It was just a good game for me today,” Jones said. “I’ve been trying to be more aggressive on offense and rebound, mix it up a little bit (on the boards).”

His rebounding work has been the most vital for UK. The Cats can get points from plenty of places — although it helps if Jones is scoring, too, and he’s reeled off 19, 15, 15, 12 and 22 in the last five games to join the career 1,000-point club — but crashing the boards needs all the attention it can get. While Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are more than able, having Jones as a third adept rebounder gives the Cats an unmatchable edge.

“That’s what is helping us usually win games is me getting more rebounds,” Jones said.

That’s what helped UK win games last year around this time, too. In UK’s last four games of the season — the NCAA Tournament run, excluding the first round — Jones averaged 10 rebounds per game. In his last four games of this season, he’s averaged 10.25 rebounds per game.

He’s peaking at the right time, and it could mean a repeat of last year’s run.

“Last year at this time, we made a run in this tournament because he rebounded the ball like crazy,” Calipari said.

It’s starting to look like LSU head coach Trent Johnson was correct when he said we can do this if Jones keeps it up:

“Go ahead and crown them.”

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