Aggressive Payback

Kansas has faced a little of everything the last couple of weeks including the 3 games in Kansas City. The Jayhawks have persevered through all of it with another Big 12 Championship to show for it and a load of momentum heading to the Big Dance.

Kansas was able to dish out a little payback for one of its two losses during a 32-2 season meaning the Jayhawks have now beaten every team on their schedule. 

This game wasn't for a one seed, it likely had little effect on either teams seeding – it was simply for pride and momentum heading to the Big Dance. And yes, a little revenge.

Kansas-Texas has become a Big 12 Championship tradition and though the games have been highly entertaining the results have been fairly one-sided. Four of KU's last five conference tourney titles have come against the Longhorns.

This 84-71 victory likely one of the more meaningful wins because the Jayhawks WANTED to play Texas and ASKED to play Texas and made no secret about it even telling the Texas players to beat A&M because they wanted a "piece". After all the pre-game chatter, KU also managed to deliver against Rick Barnes' squad.

"Since the loss we've been talking about that we really wanted another shot at them, because a lot of people have been saying that they were the best team in the Big 12," said Marcus Morris who earned the Big 12 Tournament's Most Oustanding Player Award.

You had to think maybe KU head coach Bill Self cringed a little when he found out how much his players had been asking for and talking about payback matchups with Kansas State and Texas. But maybe it wasn't such a bad thing.

"We had to come out and play," said junior Markieff Morris who was named to the All-Tournament team. "We had to back our talk up. We were saying we wanted Texas, they beat us, and we definitely came out ready to play and we kept the energy the whole game."
 
Looking a bit flat in its first two games at the Sprint Center and likely deflated to be playing Colorado instead of K-State in the semifinals, you had to know IF KU did find its way to the title game and a rematch against Texas, the Hawks would be ready.

And this time, with a title on the line, they were.

"This is what we wanted," Taylor said. "We got them in the best situation, like Big 12 Championship game. And, I mean, we came out fully focused and with high intensity from the beginning. And, I mean, we showed what we could do if we play how we play."

The circumstances were much different this time around against the Horns. Back in January Texas made its way to Lawrence looking to end KU's 69-game home winning streak and hand Kansas its first loss of the season. But KU was hurting. The Hawks were spiraling after hearing the news of the passing of Thomas Robinson's mother Lisa just over 12 hours earlier.

The Jayhawks never made excuses. They began that January 22nd game inspired and took a large halftime lead but couldn't sustain it after finally succumbing to the Longhorns, 74-63. In Kansas City, this Kansas team was ready from the opening tip and again took a large halftime lead, but this time sustained championship-caliber intensity for 40 minutes.

"I think the last game our attention span was kind of like it was somewhere else," said Taylor who scored a season-high 20 points. "I mean, we knew we had a game the next day, but there was so much more important stuff going on. So our focus for that game kind of dropped a little bit. We were fully focused for this game. We were ready."

"I think since last night and leading up to this we've been so excited to get out there and play against them and show everybody. I'm not saying that the first game was a fluke, but we weren't at full strength. And I think that today we were playing our best and we were at full strength and we showed everybody," said Marcus Morris.

The post game press conference featured talk of aggressiveness and intensity – a couple of qualities KU has proven if it can implement makes the Hawks toughest matchup in the country.

It starts at the point guard position. Kansas has looked its best when Taylor has been engaged and his return to the starting lineup for the first time in nearly month spurred him on to a 20-point performance and a game that Self labeled the best the junior has played in his collegiate career.

The dimension Taylor adds when he can penetrate, finish, and/or get his teammates involved is tough for any opponent to combat. Kansas State couldn't handle it in Lawrence and Texas couldn't on Saturday either.

"I just wanted to win," said Taylor who scored 13 of his 20 points in the first half. "Texas played good against us the last time we played against them, and they got us. We knew we had to be aggressive. Coach gave me a green light to come out and be aggressive and told me to attack. That's exactly what I did. I just was looking to score and looking to create for my teammates."

"Tonight he was fabulous," said Self praising Taylor. "He played like a point guard should play. He initiated. He finished when he needed to. And, you know, he had a couple of mental defensive lapses. But those are good players. And guys score when they're good. So I thought his play was exceptional tonight."

Elijah Johnson stepped in and played well during Taylor's suspension and had been the starter up until this game, but Self called Taylor's number for the title contest. Johnson played just 4 minutes and had 2 fouls vs. Texas.

"When one guy is playing that well he needs to be in there," Self explained. "And Tyshawn just put so much pressure on their defense by being able to drive it and get to the paint. And he helped himself score by getting in there, but he also created for others and put pressure on them the entire 40 minutes for the most part."

Johnson will have a critical role going forward but Taylor could ultimately be the key to how far this team goes.

"I knew what was best for our team, and what's best for our team is to have him in the game," said Self when asked about his decision to start Taylor. "But there's a place for Elijah, too. There's a place for both of our guys."

"There were some times where if Tyshawn wasn't playing well, statistically he can still impact the game in a lot of ways. And I think that's something that he kind of got away from a little bit when things weren't going well. But what's best for our team is to have everybody's head right and thinking positive, moving forward, and I think this did wonders for that"

The aggressiveness permeated through the entire roster and into every facet of the game. With Taylor looking so sharp at the controls KU looked like the fast, athletic team Self hyped in the preseason.

"We look fast," Self stated. "We're a pretty athletic and fast team, but we haven't played that way of late. So I think a big part of that we talked about before the game is I want you to play a lot faster and I want you to play with a free mind, and I thought we did that for the most part."

It was a classic Kansas win in the Self era – one that featured balanced scoring with six players in double-figures, precision offense (56.9 percent shooting for the game), and a stingy, repellent defense that allowed just 40.9 percent shooting against a terrific offensive team.

Self spoke about how his team was "much more aggressive protecting the rim in this one," and though the 8th year coach doesn't think this KU team is quite as good as some of his best defensive teams at Kansas they are getting better at the right time.

"If we play like that every game, it's definitely going to be hard to stop us," said Marcus Morris. "We had great ball movement and we had great help defense with everybody and we out-rebounded them by five. I mean, it's a tough team to definitely get a lot of offensive rebounds. If we play like that, we can compete against anybody in the country."

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