KU coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 70-58 victory over Oklahoma State on Feb. 27, 2012.
KU players Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson talk to reporters following the Jayhawks' 70-58 victory over Oklahoma State on Feb. 27, 2012.
Stillwater, Okla. Midway through the second half Monday night in Gallagher-Iba Arena, Thomas Robinson stole the ball at midcourt and dribbled in for a dunk, but the rim rejected it because it didn’t fit this game. Too exciting a play.
If this counted as a Big Monday, what was the Missouri game, Jupiter on Steroids Saturday? It was a comedown akin to seeing Bruce Springsteen peel paint for three hours one night and two nights later getting chained to a chair and forced to watch three consecutive reruns of the “Lawrence Welk Show.”
And all we had to do was watch it. It wasn’t easy for the emotionally spent Kansas players to play in it after Saturday’s remarkable comeback victory, and it showed. Jeff Withey mistook a front of a one-and-one for a two-shot foul, and when he caught the missed front end, he handed the ball to the referee.
Tyshawn Taylor, weary from chasing Keiton Page all over the floor mined with screens, watched Page score 11 of his 29 points in a span of 2:58 in the later stages of the second half.
Robinson missed two dunks.
It wasn’t the best effort for the nation’s third-ranked team, but it was plenty good enough to accomplish the goal of winning the game, 70-58, and the outright Big 12 title that went with it.
Not surprisingly, Taylor and Robinson, an even more dynamic duo than Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, made sure there would be no delaying the clinching party. Their once-wild games, from experience and from accepting the responsibility tossed onto their shoulders, have been tamed to the point they know how to win games without the aid of emotion.
“We’re the leaders of this team,” said Taylor, who has been a starter for half of the eight consecutive league titles. “After a few of our early games, we just established T-Rob and I have to come to play every game or our team won’t be as effective. T-Rob and I have been having a lot of talks about that.”
The thing that differentiates these league champs from the previous seven is that it has such a shallow bench, and it also is different from most of the other seven in that it had an underdog feel to it, especially after the top two recruits, Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, were declared academically ineligible.
Taylor’s the lone returning starter. Robinson didn’t have the Morris twins drawing the attention of the opposing defenses to keep the pressure away from him. The only proven three-point shooter, senior Conner Teahan, never had been in the rotation.
And here the Jayhawks are ranked third in the country with a 25-5 overall record and a 15-2 Big 12 mark, setting up the three main men most responsible for the overachievement for national awards.
Robinson has as good a shot at anyone of winning National Player of the Year honors. If Self’s case for National Coach of the Year isn’t stronger than everybody else’s, then whose is? And if Taylor isn’t the first-team All-American point guard, name a better one.
Taylor played 44 minutes against Missouri, 37 against Oklahoma State. He lit up the Pokes for 27 points and turned it over just twice. That’s three turnovers in 81 minutes in three days. Tired or not, he had to keep track of Page, never an easy assignment. On every play, the Cowboys set more screens for Page than Joan Rivers has faces.
Taylor still had enough left in his tank to score the game’s only points during a span of 3:03 when KU’s lead expanded from eight points to 18. Three-pointer, tear-drop shot, dunk and another three-pointer, and Taylor alone gave KU a 70-52 lead with 2:07 left.
Taylor sounded gassed after the game, and he wasn’t alone in that regard. This is a team that needs to catch its breath before playing again. That’s why the quick turnaround from Saturday, although it increased the chances of an upset Monday, was a fortunate bit of scheduling.
The Jayhawks can re-energize in time for an 8 p.m. tipoff Saturday and a Taylor senior speech that would have to run past midnight to cover all the twists and turns of his ever-compelling, ever-improving Kansas basketball career.