Think less. Play better.
That's how Kentucky forward Terrence Jones explained his recent upsurge. A less cluttered mind brought more production, more urgency, more surge.
"I'm just not thinking as much," Jones said after UK beat Arkansas on Tuesday night.
When asked to elaborate, Jones noted the distraction of more than one preoccupation.
"Just being less conscious about my hand," he said, a reference to the finger he dislocated against Chattanooga on Dec. 17. "Worrying about messing up because I wasn't playing like I was" as a freshman. "Just thinking too much about every little play."
Jones said he needed to concentrate on "having fun" and "just playing."
Against Arkansas, Jones scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds. That's as close to a double-double as he's gotten this season after posting 13 such performances as a freshman.
His five blocks marked a career high. His eight free throws were the second-most he's attempted this season (he shot 16 against St. John's).
That gave him a season-high five straight games with double-digit points. The nine rebounds equaled his second-highest total of the season.
"You're getting closer," UK Coach John Calipari said he told Jones in the locker room after the win over Arkansas. "You had two or three other balls you could have dunked (that) you tried to lay up. ...
"You're being more aggressive. You're ... talking more."
The dislocated pinky on his shooting hand remains a problem. Asked if the injury is completely healed, Jones said, "Nah, it's not. But I don't use it as an excuse. I just play."
Shoot less. Play better.
That was the formula for point guard Marquis Teague.
Against Arkansas, he took a season-low four shots and got credit for a season-high nine assists.
"Unbelievable floor game," Calipari said he told Teague. "Nothing was forced.
"He didn't make any crazy plays."
Calipari suggested that Teague might have turned a metaphorical corner in mastering the point guard position.
"He's really focused and zoned in on how he's got to start playing," the coach said. "He's playing as a point guard versus trying to score baskets. He's still scoring and making free throws. The biggest thing is our team is a totally different team when he's playing" well.
The numbers say Teague has been better at home than away from Rupp Arena. His assist-to-turnover ratio at home (including the game against Arkansas-Little Rock in Freedom Hall) is better than 2 to 1 (69 assists, 34 turnovers). But in six games away from home, he's had 16 assists and 26 turnovers.
"I feel I am playing better," Teague said after UK beat Arkansas. "I am making better decisions and running the team better."
Back to grind
Arkansas veered from convention by attempting a fast pace against Kentucky.
Asked if future opponents might try to run with the Cats, Jones said, "I don't know. But I feel that's an advantage for us. ... I enjoy playing that way."
The latest NCAA defensive statistics (through games of last weekend) suggest that UK's next opponent — Alabama on Saturday — will play a familiar style: defensive-minded, trying to make the Cats attack a half-court set defense.
The Tide ranked among the nation's top 10 in three key defensive categories:
■ No. 7 in field-goal defense (opponents shooting 36.8 percent).
■ No. 2 in three-point defense (opponents shooting 25.7 percent).
■ No. 8 in points allowed (opponents averaging 55.7 points).
The Tide also had made 50.3 percent of their shots.
"They are physical," said Calipari, who recalled the loss at Alabama last season.
"They beat us in the paint (32-30). They beat us on the scoreboard (68-66). They beat us physically. They beat us a hundred different ways. ...
"It's going to be a hard game for us."
On the plus side, Alabama will be the second straight weekend opponent that must play Kentucky less than 48 hours after its previous game. The Tide plays Vanderbilt at home Thursday night, then has a noon tipoff Saturday at UK.
Tennessee faced a similar task last week: playing at Mississippi State on Thursday night, then playing Kentucky at noon Saturday.