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Bob Lutz: Taylor hard to like, harder to beat

  • Published Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012, at 6:23 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012, at 2:34 p.m.

— Tyshawn Taylor doesn’t make it easy, does he?

One minute I’m thinking he’s Kansas’ Most Valuable Player this season, the next I want to go out on the floor and strangle him. Bet that would make the ESPN highlights, huh?

But we should all be used to taking the good with the bad when it comes to Taylor, who had both personalities on full display during KU’s 59-53 win over Kansas State in a hard-fought (my nice way of saying ugly) Big 12 game at Bramlage Coliseum on Monday night.

Taylor had 20 points and was at times electrifying, like on his baseline drive and dunk that put the Jayhawks up by 10, 49-39, with 4:43 remaining.

But Taylor missed the front end of two one-and-one free-throw opportunities during the final 1:03, free throws that could have sealed the deal much earlier than the deal got sealed.

Then, when it was over and the blood had been cleared off the court, Taylor mocked the K-State student section by pulling on his jersey. Instead of getting to the dressing room, he chose to act like a child, not the senior leader he proclaims himself to be.

It just doesn’t fit with the way Bill Self coaches. But Taylor’s gifts are so dynamic that the Kansas coach has apparently decided to grin and bear the other stuff.

I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same.

Taylor explained his decision to talk smack after the game. That’s if you believe there was a decision involved. I think it’s just his nature.

“I can’t talk before the game, I don’t want to jinx it,’’ Taylor said. “I can’t do it during the game because I don’t want to get yelled out. After we get a win it’s my time to talk about it a little bit. I did that.”

The funny thing is that Taylor is an enjoyable player to talk to. He expresses himself well and people gravitate toward him. But he can’t seem to keep from getting in his own way.

It was Taylor who led a Kansas charge when it looked like the Jayhawks were in big second-half trouble. After a Thomas Gipson free throw with 11:46 to play gave Kansas State its first lead of the game, 37-36, Taylor made a pair of three-pointers to help re-establish the Jayhawks. His 10 points during a span of 6:26 were instrumental in pushing KU’s lead back to 10.

That was the good Taylor.

But the bad Taylor didn’t score during the final 4:43 and bricked those free throws. He did make a great assist to 7-footer Jeff Withey, who had his third straight huge game with 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks. But Withey didn’t stay out on the floor and gloat when the game ended. He congratulated some teammates and headed for the locker room.

I get that this is an emotional rivalry for the players. And Monday night’s game had its share of vitriol. Those same K-State students that Taylor engaged are not shy about laying it on thick to the Kansas players.

That’s just college basketball. Taylor has gotten that kind of stuff for four years. You would think by now it would roll off of his back.

And how does a guy that misses two big free throws in the final minute or so have the audacity to try and rub it in after his team holds on for a victory?

That said, there’s no denying the kind of season Taylor is having. While teammate Thomas Robinson gets the most run nationally, it is Taylor who has stepped forward in some of KU’s biggest games. The Jayhawks don’t beat Iowa State without his 28 points and sis assists. They don’t beat Baylor without 28 more points on 10-of-14 shooting. They don’t win at Texas without his 22 points.

Taylor has scored 20 or more points in six of KU’s past 10 games and while turnovers can still be a bugaboo, they’re not being talked about nearly as much as they were earlier in the season.

He plays relentlessly hard. He is a lock-down defender and isn’t afraid to take the big shots. Big free throws are another matter. Taylor missed a couple late in the game at Missouri nine days ago, remember?

And on a night when Kansas State was hungry for an upset, led by a 20-point, 12-rebound game from Jamar Samuels, Taylor stepped up to make big plays. When it comes time to pick an All-America team, Taylor should get strong consideration.

His game has matured, even if his behavior sometimes hasn’t.

Robinson, too, flirted with trouble. He could have been called for a technical foul after getting tangled up with Gipson after Robinson’s charging foul with 4:09 to play. Robinson stood over Gipson, glowering at the fallen K-State freshman. After a bit, Gipson made contact with Robinson and it was Gipson who was called for the technical, much to the displeasure of the crowd and to Wildcats coach Frank Martin.

Withey made both foul shots to put the Jayhawks up, 51-41.

Kansas, obviously, is nowhere near a No. 4 national ranking without Taylor and Robinson, two of the most dynamic players in the country. When checked, those emotions are a huge boost for Kansas. But checking them doesn’t seem to be easy.

Read Bob’s blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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