Taylor's focus, maturation help Kansas knock off unbeaten Baylor
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The numbers in the box score had plenty of smiles for Tyshawn Taylor Monday night. There were the 28 points, the six assists, the 10 field goals made out of 14 attempted, including four for six from 3-point range. Incorporated into all those delightful digits was Taylor's stunning burst at the end of the first half, when he scored 10 points in a 13-0 run that catapulted No. 7 Kansas to a 92-74 rout of No. 3 Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse.
Still, amid all those smiles, there was one glaring frown: Taylor also committed five turnovers. Throughout his four years in Lawrence, Taylor has frequently been one of those proverbial point guards who keeps both teams in the game. Kansas coach Bill Self often says that Taylor is capable of making plays you can't coach, and he makes other plays where it looks like he has never been coached. Taylor is averaging a career-high 4.1 turnovers per game this season. He had 11 during the Jayhawks' loss to Duke in the championship game of the Maui Invitational. He had five in a loss to Davidson. Even in Kansas's two biggest wins -- Ohio State and Kansas State -- Taylor had seven and eight turnovers, respectively.
Since Taylor's ability (or inability) to take care of the ball has been Kansas's biggest question all season, it's only natural that it would come up again on Monday night. Taylor, however, smiled back at the frown. "Turnovers don't come up too much when we're winning," he said.
Indeed, if winning is the best deodorant, then Taylor and his mates are smelling pretty sweet right now. Monday night's win was an all-out team effort. Junior forward Thomas Robinson was player-of-the-year good with 28 points and 14 rebounds, and five KU players scored in double figures. Taylor, meanwhile, was at his best when his best was required. Even after the outcome was basically decided by the midway point of the second half, Taylor admonished his teammates to keep their feet on the gas. He didn't just want Kansas to win. He wanted this team to make a statement.
"Coach said today that this was the type of game where the best players have to play their best," Taylor said. "That's what happened. We came out in attack mode and we kept it going the whole game."
That's good advice to give a player whose penetration skills are as good as any guard in the country's. "We've only had one player who could get into the paint like him, and that was Sherron [Collins]," Self said. "And Tyshawn does it better than Sherron did."
Taylor's first step has never been in question. It's his decision-making where he has gotten into trouble, on and off the court. Taylor has a long string of embarrassing incidents on his resume. He was one of the primary instigators in the fight between members of the Kansas football and basketball teams in September, 2009. Not only did Taylor fracture a bone in his hand during the fracas, he basically broke the story by bragging about it on his Facebook page. Taylor had another regrettable Facebook moment the following January when he wrote that he was thinking about transferring, prompting Self to pull him off Facebook.
Taylor's off-court problems carried over into last season, when he was suspended in February for two games for violating team rules. He and teammate Elijah Johnson were also suspended for two exhibition games this season for the same reason. When I asked Taylor after the game Monday night what his low point was at Kansas, he smiled good-naturedly and said, "I don't know. I had a few."
Still, it speaks volumes that he and Self have emerged from all those mishaps with an undercurrent of trust. If that isn't flowing between a head coach and his point guard, a team is incapable of turning in the kind of performance Kansas did Monday night. "I don't mind when coach is yelling and screaming at me about turnovers," Taylor said. "It's when he's not saying anything that hurts the most, because that means he's disappointed. It's like letting down a parent."
Self is used to dealing with college kids, so he chalks up Taylor's off-court mistakes to youthful indiscretion. On the court, however, Self has been frustrated by Taylor's tendency to compound his mistakes. "When things go bad, he tries to make up for it by making a harder play on the next possession," Self said. "He has had to learn how to make sure that one turnover doesn't become two, and two doesn't become three. I've given him more freedom than just about anybody I've ever coached. He hasn't always handled that well, but now he is."
Said Taylor, "Turnovers are a part of the game. What matters is how you respond to them."
Taylor is a likable free spirit. When Robinson was asked on Monday night if the alley-oop Taylor threw to him early in the first half was his best dunk ever, Robinson said it was a tie between that and a similar play he made over Arizona. "I threw that one, too," Taylor beamed. Still, the difference between Taylor now and four years ago is his seriousness. When his mother, Jeanell, visited his dorm room on Tuesday morning and started teasing him like she usually does, Tyshawn brushed her off and said he wanted to be alone so he could think about the game. "He has come a long way," Jeanell said. "He has learned from his mistakes."
"When I came here, I was just looking to have a good time in college," Taylor said. "I wasn't really treating this as a business, but now I understand that's what it is. I've really grown up in that way."
Taylor gave his teammates plenty of credit for the Baylor beat down. This team played by far its best game of the season because the Jayhawks played like grown men. They out-rebounded the taller Bears 39-24 (grabbing 15 offensive rebounds along the way), and they shot 10 more free throws. If this really is one of the less-talented teams Self has had here -- and it's getting harder to make that claim considering the roster includes a front-runner for national player of the year -- then the Jayhawks will have to make up for it with intangibles. Chemistry. Toughness. Defense. Leadership. All of those things were on vivid display Monday night.
Most of all, they will need their point guard to keep making good decisions. Taylor has learned the hard way that every great play can be undone by a careless one a few minutes later. He knows better than anyone that as long as this team keeps winning, none of it will matter. "I just want to take this and enjoy it, man," he said. "No off-the-court stuff, no BS, excuse my French. The last two years I felt distracted. Now I'm playing with a free mind."