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Friday, March 30, 2012

Keegan

Aaron Craft tough, but Tyshawn Taylor won’t bare soul

Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor scans around the Superdome as the Jayhawks take the court for practice on Friday, March 30, 2012.

Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor scans around the Superdome as the Jayhawks take the court for practice on Friday, March 30, 2012.

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One of the smallest key players in the Final Four also happens to be one of the biggest pests. That’s so often how it works, isn’t it? His name is Aaron Craft and teammates talk tall about him.

How tall? The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Craft steals more than just the basketball, according to backcourt mate Lenzelle Smith Jr.

“I’ve seen him steal so many souls out there on the court,” Smith said.

Wow. Strong words. Couldn’t wait to bounce them off the man Craft will guard, Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor, a good soul. So, Tyshawn, have you ever had your soul stolen on a basketball court?

“Never,” Taylor said slowly and with wide eyes. “And I don’t plan on that changing, either. I think Aaron Craft is a terrific guard and I think he’s a great on-ball defender, but I’m too confident in my abilities and my team’s abilities to give him that much credit.”

Smith explained what he meant.

“Whenever you can guard someone who’s considered one of the top guards in the country and make them pick up the ball and panic in pressure and turn the ball over, that’s the toughest thing to do,” Smith said. “Once you do that, maybe once or twice, they start to doubt themselves as a player and you can steal their souls.”

He didn’t mean Craft is a grave-robber. Quite the contrary.

“He has so many different sides to him,” Smith said. “He changes like a chameleon. Off the court, he’s the sweetest, nicest, smartest gentleman you’ll meet. On the court, he turns into a beast. He’s so little, but if I was going into a fight, I would always want him on my side.”

Craft and Taylor, heading into their second confrontation of this basketball season, like having the guards they bring into battle with them.

Ohio State’s Smith and KU’s Elijah Johnson have followed similar paths. Early, they concentrated on defending and on facilitating the scoring opportunities of teammates. As the season deepened, both developed into consistent scoring threats.

At last check, Johnson led a KUsports.com reader poll asking to name the Jayhawks’ Most Valuable Player so far in the tournament with 44 percent of the vote, quite an honor for the lone Kansas starter who did not earn Big 12 Player of the Week honors. Johnson has scored in double figures in each of the last six games and did so in less than half the games before that streak started.

Smith didn’t have a double-figure scoring output in the first 14 games and has had five in the last nine. He averaged 17.5 points in the East Regional in Boston, where he made six of 10 three-point shots.

Scoring opportunities abound for teammates of both schools’ All-Americans, Ohio State center Jared Sullinger and Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson.

“If they don’t double Jared, he’s going to score every time,” Smith said. “I haven’t seen Jared miss a shot against one-on-one coverage since fourth grade. Any team that doesn’t double him, it’s kind of a bad idea because he’s going to score.”

Ditto for Robinson.

The game has the feeling of one that could be decided at the buzzer, which would be far from a first in Superdome history. Thirty years ago in the national-title game, freshman Michael Jordan hit a jumper that pushed North Carolina past Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown team.

When hard-core KU fans picture a player from their school doing the same, it’s Johnson’s hands the ball leaves. He has developed into his team’s Mr. Big Shot.

Someone wanted to know Friday, does Johnson envision the same when he closes his eyes?

“No, man, I’m playing ball,” Johnson said. “I can’t keep dreaming. I can’t keep dreaming. I’ve got to be conscious. I’ve got to think realistically. Now, if that happens, that happens, but I’m not going to just sit here and daze off into this fantasy world about a game-winning shot. That’s not the right focus right there.”

Giving Taylor a break with point-guard duties, even when he stays on the court, is a more concrete responsibility for Johnson.

Craft is not asked to do as much offensively for his team as Taylor does for his. So if Taylor senses Craft is defending him into exhaustion, he’ll tell Johnson to bring the ball up for a while until he regains his spark.

It always helps to have an extra point-guard soul on hand, just in case.

Comments

monkeehawkSL8 2 years ago

KIRK, ITS 10:51 PMMT AND TY HAD A BRAIN FART @ THE END OF THE GAME. HE ALSO SANK 2 FT'S JUST BEFORE THE FART AND THE CARDIHAWKS WON. DESPITE 1)DOUBLE DIGIT LAYUP & BUNNIE BRICKS 2)SOME COLORFUL OFFICIATING, CAN ANYBODY GET THEIR PAWS ON THE BLOTTER ACID THE REFS. WERE TAKING? 3)JEFFERY "HAWKZILLA" WHITHEY BREAKING THE TOURNEY RECORD FOR BLOCKS AND CATCHING THE BALL NUMEROUS TIMES DIRECTLY UNDER THE BASKET AND NOT KNOWING WHAT TO DO WITH IT. JEFF DUNK THE%@#$%)&%ING BALL!!!!!!! 4)EJ, TRAVIS BIG GAMES. THIS IS THE WAY THIS TEAM PLAYS, ITS DIFFERENT, THE FART IS SWEET, CAUSE THIS TEAM WINS.

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Kirk 2 years ago

If KU loses, it might well be because Taylor has a tremendous brain fart at the end of the game. If KU wins, it might well be because Taylor contributes on both sides of the floor throughout the game.

He's key.

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Eric Baker 2 years ago

Aaron Craft fouled out of the Syracuse game. He finished 1-3 from the field and 3-3 from the line (5 points). He only had one steal, 4 assists, 2 turnovers, and played all but one minute.

Tyshawn Taylor only had two fouls in the North Carolina game. He finished 10-19 (10-14 for 2 pointers), and 2-4 from the line (22 points). He had 5 steals, 5 assists, 3 turnovers, and and played all but 4 minutes.

If we get Tyshawn like that game, and they get Craft like their last game, we have a huge advantage. Especially if the Syracuse game is an indication of how the refs will call Craft's steals, ie correctly calling them fouls when they're fouls. In addition, we have our starting point guard for next year already starting at the off guard, giving us two primary ball handlers that dished out 5 assists apiece last game. Who else does Ohio State have if Craft gets in foul trouble or just doesn't play well?

Tyshawn played a healthy, intense Craft in the 9th game of our season. Craft played an unfocused, turnover prone Tyshawn who was powering through a torn meniscus. Craft has gotten better, but Tyshawn's practically a different player now. Advantage Tyshawn.

I'm also surprised the hero of the last Ohio State game, Kevin Young, isn't mentioned at all. He's remarkably improved even over that game, especially in terms of rebounding, which will be a major key in this game.

Jesse's all doom and gloom, but I like our chances. Especially if Elijah stays hot from behind the arc and either Connor or Tyshawn can find their shot, too.

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Scut Farkus 2 years ago

Is Craft going to guard the ball or Taylor? If EJ brings it up and Taylor posts up Craft he can score at will. If Taylor has the ball, look for him to penetrate. Taylor has played against some mighty good defenders in his career and Craft might get his hands on a couple but Taylor's length and speed are equalizers.

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justinryman 2 years ago

Craft and Anthony Davis get away with more fouls than anyone at this point of the season.

Why?

Is it because the press says they get all steals and only block shots?

Is it because the refs believe the hype?

Why?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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97jhawk 2 years ago

Uh, hello!! If there's anyone out there that knows first hand what to expect with Craft Mac&Cheese, it's TT.

Uh, yeah, they've like played each other and stuff already. Jeez! Tired of people talking like they don't know what to expect from one another like they've never faced one another. Sure, they didn't have Sullinger, but we didn't have the Withey we have now. He's the most improved Jayhawk since that 9th game of the season and that has to account for something. That, along with TT knowing what to expect, should give KU just enough of the upper hand.

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Doug Cramer 2 years ago

KULA - you got me fired up with that post !!!

Rock Chalk !!!

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KULA 2 years ago

Such bittersweet feelings here on the eve of Final Four. Knowing that some of your favorite players (and coaches) are leaving, yet realizing that Kansas basketball will be left in good hands. Probably my favorite player, Tyshawn, whose four years went by oh-so fast. Seems like only yesterday we saw his first flashes of greatness as a freshman, like throwing down 26 on OU, and Danny saying early in the season, "You're gonna like him." To having to take a back seat to more touted players his next two years, and finally emerging this year as one of the best guards in the country. We didn't get to see enough of you Tyshawn...

And Thomas Robinson, whose steel character was forged in the cauldron of personal tragedy, coming out of nowhere to emerge as the best player in the country. And we didn't get to see enough of you, Thomas.

And Danny, moving on too. I thought Danny would be a fixture in Kansas basketball for many years to come. But I didn't take into account what a competitor Danny is. And competitors always look for a new challenge.

So sad to see them move on, and yet Kansas basketball is still in good hands. To hear Elijah's audio interview yesterday, to listen to this intelligent and thoughtful and well-spoken young man and to know that he will be one of our leaders next year. To hear in his voice the confidence in his abilities and to know the ball is in good hands.

And Travis, who was spoken of as a one & done, who is taking the measured and methodical path to greatness. His drive against NC State, that Coach razzed him for, and a very similar one we saw earlier in the season, is the perfect metaphor for his KU career. As he weaved his measured and methodical path through the defenders in what looked like slow motion, he left them helplessly grasping behind as he laid the ball in the basket. And next year, when he's even more unleashed, we'll see so much more of the high-flying slashing wingman that we were treated to in his Player of the Week showcase.

And Jeff, who emerged as a force this year, as we always knew he would. Hello, 2013 All American. Next year they will start talking about the new stat--Blocked Shots that Result in a Turnover. The blue paint is in good hands in 2012-13.

And then there's the new guys--Naadir, who I have no doubt will fully fill the shoes of "Kansas Point Guard." His quickness and confidence in his shot leave me no worries about that. And Kevin, who went from shaky "best available" to ready to contribute, no drop-off sixth man. In his limited minutes, one of the best interior passers I've seen.

Oh yeah, and then we've got those other guys coming in...

But back to Saturday. Let's finish this thing off right guys. Send our valedictories off with another banner and give our returners the basis of a dynasty to build on. Show 'em how we play basketball in Kansas!

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Kent Richardson 2 years ago

The big XII is full of ultra quick and tough guards. Final four media over hype. NC played unbelieveably well in the regional final. KU matched them and still wasn't performing at their peak offense wise.

The big 10 game is based on contact and physical play. If the year of the ref continues then Ohio St has a chance to win. If not then we run their couch burning butts into oblivion. This team is ready to explode!

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KUWorldTraveler 2 years ago

All the analysts from the larger websites wonder if Tyshawn will be able to handle the pressure of Craft. Don't get me wrong, he's a heck of a defender. But Tyshawn has already played against him this year, so knows what to expect. That was when Tyshawn wasn't playing that well, and his marked improvement will only be showcased even more on the Final Four stage.

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JayHawkFanToo 2 years ago

I believe the outcome of the game will hinge in a big way in how the refs call the game.

Friends that follow the Big 10 tell me that everybody in that conference knows that Craft gets away with a lot, but in the rough-n-tumble Big 10, the refs swallow the whistle.

If the refs call the game the way it should be called and Craft picks up a couple of quick fouls, then the advantage swings to KU big time.

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ohmixmaster 2 years ago

Didn't know where to post this, but this is a really great article on Andrea Hudy. Glad she is getting the recognition she deserves on a National level. However, I don't want anyone else coming in and stealing her from us.....what an asset.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303816504577311614144400788.html

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Dan Harris 2 years ago

I hope the refs don't let Craft get away with all the slaps he's gotten away with all year!

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jaybate 2 years ago

No-Ring-Since-1960 State: Craft is your weak link and TT knows it.

Tyshawn will strangle Craft's air, then cut off Craft's head, then the body of Lo-hio State will die.

Sully? He is a back surgery walking. KU knows his back is still vulnerable and he has never gotten back in shape. That's why Lenville and Deshaun are scoring more.

We are going to run his ass till he fouls out.

And KU is not going bother with souls

KU is going to ginsu the rest of you dwarves into stew meat and boil you in your own sweat.

Welcome to the Lawrence Airmen.

Its going to hurt like hell, when they take you through the pain barrier, you crack and they shoot your asses down.

Frankly, you're not in shape.

Next.

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kusayzone 2 years ago

Good grief, want to frustrate the heck out of Craft as he guards TT....let EJ be the point guard......duh?

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Scott MacWilliams 2 years ago

The containment of Craft will be a big job, as I seem to recall him creating all kinds of havoc last Dec. at AFH. I'm looking forward to seeing everybody step and help out in all phases of the game. It should be a great game, and I think it will come down to the last shot... We've been winning with a lot of late game hustle lately, so I'm pretty comfortable with our chances.

Rock Chalk, Jayhawks!!!

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phogphan2000 2 years ago

Ha ha, who has Sullinger been scoring on one-on-one all season? I hope he takes 20 shots one-on-one with Withey.

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Hawkamania 2 years ago

If Taylor can keep his composure with the constant pressure of Craft's "crafty" defense there is NO doubt in my mind we will be victorious come Saturday night.

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