KNOXVILLE -- A trio of talented playmaking freshmen take most of the headlines.
A steady senior provides the oil for the machine.
Then comes sophomore Terrence Jones, Kentucky's mercurial forward and perhaps the key to the top-ranked Wildcats' national-championship aspirations. Coming off a 27-point performance in Kentucky's Saturday win at LSU, the sophomore certainly has Tennessee's attention as the Volunteers play tonight in Lexington.
"He's the one guy they go to most of the time on the blocks," UT coach Cuonzo Martin said Monday. "You watch their team play, first play of the game is normally him on the post making a play. He's a physical presence around the rim; he can make 3s; he can take it off the dribble. He does a lot of things for their team."
The 6-foot-8 Jones showed most of those things against the Tigers on Saturday. In his season-high scoring output, he made 10 of 16 shots and seven of eight free throws, grabbed nine rebounds and added two steals and three blocked shots. He scored just five points in Kentucky's previous game, a win at Georgia.
"If Terrence is going to show up and play like that, they need to crown them right now," LSU coach Trent Johnson said on Monday's SEC coaches' teleconference.
Three Kentucky freshmen figure to go in the NBA draft's lottery picks in the future. Anthony Davis averages a double-double and leads the nation in blocked shots, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has the length and athleticism to do everything and Marquis Teague starts at point guard. Poised senior wing Darius Miller gives the Wildcats another versatile player.
Jones, however, can provide something Kentucky's loaded roster might lack.
"Terrence played a little different down at [LSU]. We had some toughness," Wildcats coach John Calipari said Monday. "Terrence has to give us that physical presence."
Jones certainly has the tools to join some of his teammates near the top of NBA draft boards, but he's struggled at times this season. He scored just four points in Kentucky's lone loss, which came at Indiana in December. In four games against ranked nonconference opponents and six SEC games before Saturday's outburst, Jones averaged just 10 points and 5.5 rebounds.
In addition to his 65 percent free-throw shooting, Jones is averaging three fewer points and three fewer rebounds than he did as a freshman, though the players around him this season certainly contribute to the lower numbers.
In Kentucky's 65-62 win in Knoxville 17 days ago, Jones had 10 points, five rebounds, three blocks and three turnovers before fouling out in just 24 minutes. UT's frontcourt got 15 points and 10 rebounds from Jeronne Maymon and nine points and four rebounds from Jarnell Stokes, the freshman who played just 17 minutes in his collegiate debut.
"I mean, I don't think [Stokes] really made that big of an impact," Jones said Monday. "Whatever he had wasn't that big to me."
UT led by eight points in the second half before a six-minute drought ended its hopes of an upset. Martin said his team is the one that's changed the most since the rivals' first meeting.
"When you're No. 1 in the country, there's not a lot of change," he said. "They tweak here and there, but when you're the best in the land, I don't know how much change you try to do. I definitely think we're better at home, and I think now you have go on the road and prove it.
"Are we a better team? Yes, we're a better team. But I think you have to go on the road in a hostile environment and prove it."
Calipari agreed, but the Vols' best chance of beating Kentucky might have passed. The Vols are winless on the road this season and have struggled to take care of the ball away from Thompson-Boling Arena. Martin even questioned his team's heart after last week's blowout loss at Vanderbilt.
Now the Vols might have to beat a Kentucky team with Jones adding another dimension.
"We were all happy in that locker room, and the team was ecstatic," Calipari said. "It wasn't [Jones'] scoring. He was tough. He came up with balls. He posted physically strong."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.