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January 7, 2012A jump shot had misfired, and Terrence Jones was in determined pursuit, sprinting from one side of the floor to the next in search of an offensive rebound.
It was the sort of play Jones hadn't been making much lately, and it was a sight for coach John Calipari's sore eyes in the second half of No. 2 Kentucky's 79-64 win against South Carolina Saturday at Rupp Arena.
"Haven't seen him in a little while," Calipari said of Jones.
Jones had been around, but not like this. In the past five games, Jones - battling a dislocated left pinky finger and a lingering lack of confidence - had been easy to miss. But against the Gamecocks on Saturday, he poured in 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting to pace Kentucky (15-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference).
That's five fewer points than he'd scored in his last five games combined.
"He did stuff that he's done in the past and now he builds on this. This isn't like okay, now I back up and go put my toes up and eat Cheetos. Now I'm going to go work harder.
"He's back," teammate Anthony Davis said.
And Calipari wants him to stay.
"He did stuff that he's done in the past and now he builds on this," Calipari said. "This isn't like okay, now I back up and go put my toes up and eat Cheetos. Now I'm going to go work harder. I'm going to go spend more time, go harder, lift, spend extra time shooting and I'm not going back to where I was."
For the record, Jones said he likes Cheetos. He doesn't eat them often.
Lately, though, his game has been more of a snack chip than a full-course meal. After a four-point performance in a loss at Indiana, he dislocated a finger against Chattanooga, missed two games, then came back to average seven points per game in his next three.
Asked Saturday how much of Jones' slump could be attributed to his aching finger, Calipari replied, "None of it."
Told his coach said the finger wasn't a problem, Jones said, "Well, it was."
"With my finger getting hurt, I felt my confidence got shot, just because I didn't want to be aggressive because of the pain and the problems I was having with that," Jones said. "So I wasn't playing like (teammates) have seen me playing in practice before that happened."
Against the Gamecocks (8-7, 0-1), Jones looked like his old self. He threw down a dunk and drew a foul. He posted strong, turned and scored.
"That's the Terrence Jones we know," Calipari said.
And that familiar old Jones helped spark Kentucky after a flat start. The Gamecocks scored the first four points of the game, and Calipari called a timeout a minute and 25 seconds into the first half.
UK responded, thanks in part to Jones. He had eight points in the first half, then poured in 12 in the second as the Cats led by as many as 21 points.
"If he's playing like that, it's just another offensive weapon and defensive weapon on the floor," Davis said. "Some guys weren't really focused on him because he was going through his slump. But now we all think he's back, and now they have to change up their scouting reports."
For one day, at least, Jones was back. That sample size is small. Calipari wasn't making proclamations afterward. Instead, he already was working to push Jones to continued improvement.
"I told him after the game, now you work even harder than you've been working," Calipari said. "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."