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Jones didn't let Indiana performance define his season

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Terrence Jones is averaging 15.2 points and 9.3 rebounds over his last six games. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Terrence Jones is averaging 15.2 points and 9.3 rebounds over his last six games. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.

ATLANTA -- Perspective can be everything.

For Indiana fans, the lasting image from Dec. 10 will forever be Christian Watford's buzzer-beating game winner, an official mark that the program had returned to relevance. For Kentucky fans, the picture of thousands of fans flooding the floor at Assembly Hall is burned into their brains.

For Terrence Jones, he remembers a much different story. His perspective was a rare one, a courtside seat next to his coaches as five of his teammates tried to pull off a second-half comeback and stay undefeated.

Jones sat the bench for most of the final seven minutes in what was arguably the worst performance of his career in a Kentucky uniform. The sophomore forward was a mysterious nonfactor that afternoon in Bloomington, Ind., turning the ball over six times while scoring only four points on just three shots.

"He absolutely gave us zero today," John Calipari said at the time.

Afterwards, Jones became the scapegoat for fans and critics that looked for a reason for Kentucky's lone regular-season loss. Some called him a no-show, others pointed to his inconsistent ways.

In the games and weeks that immediately followed the mysterious performance, Jones could do nothing to quiet the detractors as he battled a dislocated pinky finger. He missed the Samford and Loyola (Md.) games with the injured finger, and he averaged just 3.3 points and 4.8 rebounds from Dec. 10 until the Arkansas-Little Rock game on Jan. 3.

Sitting in his locker room stall Thursday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, site of Friday's Kentucky-Indiana Sweet 16 rematch, Jones admitted the performance stuck with him.

"It took me a while (to get over it) just because I got hurt the next game," Jones said. "I couldn't really redeem myself or help my team out for a while after that. I just had to wait."

On the eve of the rematch with the Hoosiers, Jones said a couple of factors played a part in his struggles. One was the frequent double teams by the Hoosiers.

"I just played bad," Jones said. "They doubled me and they got me thinking, and then I just started thinking too much and wasn't into it."

Jones has since seen plenty of double teams, experiencing few problems adjusting and excelling when the pressure buckles down on the block. So what gives?

Ah, yes, the second factor - Jones' mind. When Indiana and its fans infiltrated his psyche, Jones' problems snowballed into a mental block that completely short circuited his game. The sophomore had never struggled as much as he did that day in December, and he hasn't struggled quite like it since.

"I never put as much pressure on myself as I did that game," Jones said. "I wanted to win so bad. It being away and not being able to score because they were doubling, it was tough for me."

That game at Indiana, now more than three months old, feels like eons ago for Jones. He reiterated Thursday that he was not looking ahead to a potential rematch with the Hoosiers when the bracket was first released.

"We've just been having fun so we're not about to stress about something that happened (three) months ago," Jones said.

Instead of focusing on redemption, Jones is concerned with returning to the Final Four. Calling the matchup "more than a revenge game for both teams," Jones broke down the season into three different parts: the preseason, the regular season and the postseason.

Avenging a loss is far less important at this time of the year than advancing past the Sweet 16, the 6-foot-8, 244-pound forward explained.

"However we play now is what defines us," Jones said. "That loss can define us if we let it, but how we play now is really the only thing that matters."

If that's the case, Jones is defining a solid sophomore season with a spectacular finish.

Since the postseason began at the Southeastern Conference Tournament in New Orleans, Jones has been brilliant. Playing like Kentucky's best player over the last month, Jones is averaging 15.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over his last six games.

"The past couple of games he's done a great job of leading us, being very aggressive, getting nice shots for us, key rebounds and stops, so he's done a great job of sort of taking over this tournament," senior guard Darius Miller said.

Said Coach Cal: "Just keep doing what he's been doing. I told him whatever you're eating tell the rest of the guys."

With the encouragement from Calipari to rebound and let the rest of his game take care of itself, he's recorded three double-doubles over his last five games, just narrowly missing out on double-doubles in the other two. Prior to that stretch, he had managed just one all season.

"It just makes the game much easier on me and just makes points come easier because I'm not thinking or trying to do too much," Jones said of his newfound focus to grab boards. "I'm just trying to let the game come to me. I think it's what we've all been doing the last couple of games. I just think it's been helping us as a team improve, playing as unselfish as we do."

Even with this late-season outburst, Jones' season averages are down from last season to 12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds. But if he can lead Kentucky past Indiana and guide the Cats back to the Final Four, the first Indiana game will be nothing more than a footnote in a sensational first two seasons at Kentucky, a program that defines its success but what you do in the postseason.

"Terrence just had a bad game, which every player does," Miller said. "Every player has those games where nothing's really going for them. Now, he's pretty much dominating every game."

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