The spring in Tyshawn Taylor's step was there before the game.
Taylor has a certain bounce in his legs and look in his eyes when he's ready and focused on the task at hand. On Saturday in Phog Allen Fieldhouse it took all of 30 seconds after running out for warmups to know that Taylor was ready for K-State.
Maybe it was because a big-time rival was visiting. Maybe he wanted to be able to back up some choice comments he made a day earlier about how this rivalry was, well, not really a rivalry. Or maybe he was just determined to step up his game with February fast approaching. Whatever the reason, this was the Tyshawn Taylor the Kansas Jayhawks need to be successful.
"I think we were just juiced about today," Taylor told the media. "It was a big day. The fans have been here all day going crazy, so it was a big day for us and i felt like we owed it to the fans."
KU head coach Bill Self knows what he has with Taylor and accepts the good with the bad. But he hasn't been shy this season pointing out Taylor"a lack of aggression on several occasions pushing the junior guard to be better on both ends of the floor. It was a lack of aggression that hurt Kansas and handed the Hawks their first home loss in nearly three years last weekend against Texas. The inability to get in the paint and willingness to drive it almost cost KU versus Michigan earlier in the year, too. But Taylor's willingness to do all of the above made the difference against the Wildcats.
"Just as a solid player, that was Tyshawn. He played really really well," said Self ,praising his starting guard. "He didn't turn it over and played within himself and he drove it and that was a big key for us is him getting to the paint and driving the ball and he got all the way to the rim several times."
He was under control, smooth with the ball, and finishing at the rim. All welcome signs for Kansas and Taylor who had gone six games without hitting the double-figure mark. It is Taylor's fourth straight game with more assists than turnovers.
"The one guy who kind of controlled the game from start to finish was Tyshawn," Self pointed out to the media after. "I thought he was terrific tonight. Obviously he made shots and got the ball to the rim and made the game easier for everyone else."
While the offensive game appeared to flow easily for Taylor, as he netted 13 points on 5-6 shooting, he was also the key defensively.
Taylor was asked shut down Jacob Pullen for most of the game. K-State's best offensive weapon was held in check during the critical stages of the game and though he got his 21 points, he went 8-22 from the floor and 1-4 from three-point range.
"I have a lot of respect for Jacob, but we did a fabulous job on him," Self said when asked about defending the 2010 All-Big 12 selection. "I thought Tyshawn was really good. His defense on Jacob was really good. Now Jacob ended up getting his but a lot of those points he got was when Tyshawn wasn't on him, so I thought Ty played very well."
"Our coaches did a nice job of scouting them, and we did a nice job at practice the last couple of days just going over their stuff, so we kind of knew a lot of their sets," Taylor assessed. "We just did a good job defending them."
Taylor went thru a sophomore slump but matured and was expected to have a monster junior season. K-State head coach Frank Martin even pointed out that "Taylor has come a long way." The Jersey native hasn't been ineffective but let's just say he hasn't been omnipresent either. Yes, he's averaging nearly 9 points per game and almost five assists but in conference play those numbers have dipped to 6.8 ppg and 3.7 apg. Self needs more from his junior point guard, especially since freshman star Josh Selby has struggled at times.
Kansas is about to embark on a critical stretch of conference games and to come out of it with a chance to win a sixth straight title we'll need to see the same Tyshawn Taylor we all saw on Saturday.