LAHAINA, Hawaii — Oklahoma Coach Jeff Capel super-sized the flattery when he recruited McDonald's All-American Terrence Jones.
"I thought Terrence Jones was the best player in the country in his class," Capel said after Jones led Kentucky to a 76-64 victory over the Sooners on Monday. "I didn't see anyone who could have the impact on a game like he could. He certainly did that this afternoon and I anticipate him continuing to do that."
Jones' 29 points equaled the second-most by a Kentucky freshman (Jamal Mashburn scored 31 against visiting Georgia in 1991) and advanced Kentucky into Tuesday's semifinals of the EA Sports Maui Invitational, where it will play Washington at 9:30 p.m. EST.
Jones also posted career highs with 13 rebounds and four blocks, plus he equalled his previous best of three assists.
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"I loved him," Capel said. "I didn't love him this afternoon. That was my whole pitch to him. I thought he was the best player in the country."
Making nine of its first 10 shots and zipping to 21-8 lead barely five minutes into the game, it appeared Kentucky could — to borrow a popular Hawaiian phrase — hang loose.
But Oklahoma (3-1) came close to stealing the poi at UK's luau. Repeatedly using pick-and-roll screens on offense and confusing UK by mixing defenses, the Sooners narrowed a 18-point second-half deficit to 68-62. More than two minutes remained.
"We needed this," UK Coach John Calipari said of the contrast of this game to the two blowouts that began this season. "I want to see who can step up and make a play offensively and defensively. The only way you can learn is in these games."
Jones — who else? — saved the day. He blocked Cade Davis' three-point shot (one of two blocks he had in the tense final 90 seconds).
"I just took a bad shot," said Davis, who led Oklahoma with three three-pointers and 23 points. "It was forced. I should have swung (the ball) back to the back side."
After the Cats retrieved the blocked shot, Jones took a pass for a rousing fast-break dunk with 1:23 left. En route to the slam, Jones stuck out his tongue in anticipation of something wonderful just like that former No. 23 for North Carolina and the Chicago Bulls used to do.
For good measure, Jones blocked another shot with less than 45 seconds left and UK more comfortably ahead 72-62.
Unlike Friday in Portland, the first half was not seamless domination by Kentucky. Yet, this quilt of a half looked pretty enough with the Cats ahead 42-28 at the break.
Three-point shooting and defense propelled Kentucky to firm control of the game by halftime. The Cats made six three-pointers in the half, none more improbable than the one DeAndre Liggins banked in from near the top of the key. That shot quelled an Oklahoma rally that reduced an early 13-point UK advantage to 30-24.
Coincidentally or not, the would-be rout stalled when Darius Miller inexplicably hung on the rim while trying to tip in a shot by Doron Lamb.
The referees conferred for a moment before deciding to call a technical foul on Miller. Two technical free throws began an 8-0 Oklahoma run.
With Jones scoring nine points in less than five minutes, Kentucky seemed in control. The lead stood at 59-41 and less than 12 minutes remained.
Then Oklahoma began screening and getting to the rim repeatedly against UK's soft center.
Even a pretty fast-break pass by Jones, who threaded a pass through two defenders to Josh Harrellson for a layup, did not discourage Oklahoma.
Calipari credited the Sooners for exploiting Kentucky with the pick-and-rolls. "They ran it 72 times," he said. "They should have run it 115 times because we haven't worked on it. We didn't know what we were doing."
Fortunately for Kentucky, Jones rode to the rescue.
Calipari again noted that he won't be satisfied, and neither should Jones.
"I don't care if you're 18," he said he told his freshman forward. "I've had other 18-year olds who had your size and your ability and they dominated. But that's hard.
"When the games get more physical, then we'll find out if he's ready to be that guy."
From the push-push-push perspective of a coach, Jones did "all right" against Oklahoma.
"Now it's put games back to back to back," Calipari said, "and establish who we are."