John Calipari still isn’t happy with Terrence Jones, but he’s apologized for his latest criticisms. Regaining its focus could be important to Kentucky avoiding consecutive losses for the first time in almost two years.
Coming off one of their worst performances of the season, the No. 12 Wildcats will try to show some improvement against surprising South Carolina on Saturday night.
Jones leads all freshman with a team-high 18.5 points per game, but that’s not enough for Calipari.
The coach has moved the forward to the bench for the last three games, claiming he wanted to see improvement in his passing. Calipari was then caught on television calling Jones “selfish” during a profanity-laced tirade in the final minutes of a 68-66 loss at Alabama on Tuesday, when the Wildcats (14-4, 2-2 SEC) scored a season low in points and shot 37.7 percent.
Jones may not have helped his case by badly missing a midcourt shot at the buzzer on a play designed for Doron Lamb.
“That was to go to Doron, so the other guy just said, ‘I’m doing this myself’ and kind of grabbed it,” Calipari said. “But that was for Doron, and Doron was open.
“I’m learning, who do I go to? We went to the wrong guys.”
Calipari apologized for the verbal assault, saying he “got caught up in the emotion of the game,” but added that it’s not an excuse.
His scrutiny of Jones, however, has some merit. He’s committed four turnovers Tuesday and has made 8 of 25 shots to total 34 points over the last two games after scoring a season-high 35 in a 78-54 win over Auburn on Jan. 11.
Despite the friction between Calipari and Jones, Kentucky is the only ranked team in the SEC and leads the conference with 79.2 points per game and 40.8 percent shooting from 3-point range.
While Jones is starring in his first season, so are fellow freshmen Lamb and guard Brandon Knight. Knight is averaging 17.3 points while Lamb has 13.9.
The Wildcats are in danger of suffering consecutive defeats for the first time since a four-game slide from Feb. 25-March 7, 2009. They’ve lost their last two visits to South Carolina (12-5, 3-1), falling 68-62 on Jan. 26 to fall out of the top spot in the AP Poll.
The Gamecocks, 9-1 at Colonial Life Arena, are one of the biggest surprises in the SEC so far, leading the East Division, which was won by Kentucky last season.
South Carolina overcame a nine-point deficit midway through the second half to win 81-74 in overtime against Arkansas. The performance came after the Gamecocks won 72-69 at Florida last Saturday, and coach Darrin Horn is encouraged by his team’s performance in close games.
“I’m not totally shocked by it,” he said. “It is impressive. At the same time, we try to recruit guys that want to be in that situation. A lot of that stuff late game is experience.”
Sam Muldrow provided the recent spark, scoring five of his 20 points in overtime against the Razorbacks while adding eight rebounds and six blocks. The forward is a major defensive presence, ranking among the nation’s leaders with an average of 3.5 blocks - 6.2 over the last five games.
The senior is third on the team with 10.1 points per game and his 7.0 rebounds are second.