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January 17, 2012
KU Buries Baylor
Jayhawks Atop Big 12

by C.J. Moore

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LAWRENCE, KAN. -- A few weeks ago Thomas Robinson said he had finally started listening to coach Bill Self. The coach had told Robinson over and over again that life in the paint would be a lot easier for him once he became a willing passer and didn't try to score against double-teams.

Kentucky and Davidson had given the rest of the country the blueprint to beat Kansas: double-team Robinson, make the guards shoot threes and hope Tyshawn Taylor turns into a turnover machine.

Baylor didn't follow that blueprint Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse in a 92-74 loss, but even if Scott Drew had tried, it probably wouldn't have mattered.

In the space of four weeks, Self's crew has evolved into a cognizant bunch capable of delivering the type of royal pounding they dropped on previously undefeated Baylor with just one day of preparation.

"I'm not saying that people are sleeping on us and don't think we're good, but I think people really didn't know what to expect coming from this team," Taylor said. "They didn't know what we had or what we could do. I think the last few games we've shown them we can be the best team in this conference if we play the way we've been playing."

That blueprint: Robinson and Taylor take turns playing the leading role mixed with some impressive performances by supporting characters. In Monday's showing, Jeff Withey, the Big 12's leader in blocks, made Baylor think twice about entering the paint and had three blocks. Withey also recorded his second straight double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds (nine offensive). Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson, who alleviate some of the pressure on Taylor, chipped in 11 apiece.

It was a great back-and-forth battle until Taylor took over. The senior guard scored 11 of his game-high 28 points during a 13-0 run that put KU ahead by 10 going into half. Taylor finished the half by nailing a three-pointer on a play that was designed to go to Conner Teahan.

"I should have said, 'Tyshawn, you shoot it,' and then he would have gotten Conner a shot," Self said. "Tyshawn and I have kind of a unique relationship in some ways like that."

"The play was to go flat, and he was feeling it. It turned out to be a good shot."

Self has learned to let Taylor be Taylor, even if he has to live with some frustrating turnovers. Taylor took his game to another level when he scored 22 points in the second half against Iowa State on Saturday, a game KU would have lost had he not taken over.

Against Baylor, he flipped the switch again.

"Coach is telling me to attack and be in attack mode, so that's what I'm going to continue to do," Taylor said.

Robinson brought his Player of the Year campaign, narrated by Dick Vitale, to America's living rooms with some monstrous dunks, including a full extension one-handed alley oop finish off a Taylor lob.

"I caught the elevator to the top stairs," Robinson said.

When Robinson wasn't elevating to new heights, he was burying Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy deep under the basket. KU's guards made sure to get Robinson the ball, something they were unable to do in the second half against Iowa State when Robinson did not attempt a shot. The Cyclones shadowed Robinson with a second defender, and as a sign of his progression, he willingly passed out of double teams and allowed his teammates to do all the scoring. Baylor allowed Robinson touches, and he got 27 points on 18 shots.

When Robinson's touches have been limited, like against Iowa State, his patience has paid off. He is shooting 61 percent and has 13 assists in his last seven games.

"He's so much better now because he's more patient and he's understanding how he's going to score," Self said. "He's taking better shots and I just think he's becoming more of a guy who understands the game, and how he can take advantage of his skillset and his body."

Credit Self for getting through to his big man, and credit the coach again for dissecting any zone or man-to-man defense the Bears threw at them. KU's offensive performance made up for what was one of the Jayhawks worst defensive games -- they gave up 1.04 points per possession. It was the first time since Davidson that KU had allowed more than a point per trip.

Drew brought the best defensive team he's ever had to Lawrence. In 17 games, the Bears had only allowed three teams (BYU, West Virginia and K-State) to score more than a point per possession. Self told his players to go right at Baylor's length, and their strategy worked, as they scored 1.29 points per trip, the best mark any offense has recorded against Baylor's D, by far.

"All year long, that's why we've been good: we've defended and rebounded," Drew said. "Tonight we didn't have that."

The Bears' talent and length will overwhelm most, but they were overwhelmed by a team willing to attack and two stars determined to carry KU to an eighth straight Big 12 title.

"In big games, your best players have got to play," Self said. "Thomas played and Tyshawn played. Not too many guys in America who can play better than those two tonight."

A lot has changed since that night in Kansas City four weeks ago when Davidson shocked KU. That day Robinson took 18 shots and didn't trust his teammates. Taylor was playing eight days after surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee. Robinson trusts his teammates now, and Taylor's knee is fine.

And so are the Jayhawks.

C.J. Moore is a writer in Kansas City. Follow him on Twitter: @cjmoore4.

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