LAWRENCE, Kan. -- A few weeks ago, just before the start of Big 12 play, Tyshawn Taylor approached his mother, Jeanell, and made a vow.
“For the next three months,” Taylor told her, “I’m going to be focused.”
At times that’s been a problem for Kansas’ starting point guard.
Taylor has gotten into sparring matches with KU “fans” on Twitter. He injured his hand in a fight with Jayhawks football players and he’s served suspensions for a few off-court mishaps. Nothing major, mind you, but still unsettling enough to make some of the same people who cheer for Taylor jeer him under their breath.
Just last month, Bill Self called Taylor the “most polarizing” player he has ever coached.
After Monday, he may suddenly be one of the most loved.
In what was likely his best performance as a Jayhawk, Taylor matched a career-high with 28 points and six assists to spark Kansas to a 92-74 victory over previously unbeaten Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse.
A fourth-year starter, Taylor connected on 10 of his 14 field goal attempts for seventh-ranked Kansas, which is now 15-3 overall and 5-0 in the Big 12. Third-ranked Baylor fell to 17-1 and 4-1.
“We made a statement tonight,” Taylor said. “I’m not saying people were sleeping on us, but people didn’t know what to expect from this team. They didn’t really know what we had or what we could do.
“The last few games, we showed them that we can be the best team in this conference if we play the way we’ve been playing.”
Or rather, if Taylor continues to play the way he has been playing.
Two days after scoring 28 points in a come-from-behind victory over Iowa State, Taylor was once again the key to Kansas’ success Monday.
With his team trailing 29-26, Taylor scored 11 points during a 13-0 Jayhawks scoring run that made it 39-29 at intermission. Taylor was equally brilliant in the second half against a Baylor squad that was taller, longer, faster and deeper than Kansas. None of that mattered Monday, though, as Taylor attacked the Bears’ zone defense with ferocity, sometimes pulling up for a midrange jump shot and other times hanging in the air for a layup in traffic.
Taylor also made four of his six attempts from 3-point range, turning what was supposed to be the game of the year in the Big 12 into an all-out rout.
“I don’t want to feel like I’m just another player on the court,” Taylor said. “I want to be a threat. I want the defender that is guarding me to feel like when I have the ball that I can make something happen.”
No one has ever questioned Taylor’s ability. He’s been the Jayhawks’ fastest player with the ball in his hands since his freshman season and can beat his defender to the lane almost anytime he wants. The problem has been that, all too often, a good performance by Taylor has been followed by two bad ones.
Taylor often appears careless with the ball. He has 11 games this season with at least four turnovers. Heck, he had 11 in one game against Duke. Things got so bad a few weeks ago that Kansas fans began attacking him on Twitter.
Taylor probably didn’t hear from many of them Monday despite committing five turnovers against the Bears.
“Turnovers don’t come up too much when you’re winning,” he chuckled.
That’s the thing about Taylor. You’re going to have to take the good with the bad. As maddening as he can be at times, Kansas would be a .500 team, at best, without him. Thomas Robinson (27 points, 14 rebounds) may be the leading candidate for national player of the year, but Taylor is the guy that makes the Jayhawks go.
And he’s the main reason Kansas is the favorite to win its eighth-best Big 12 title. Self said Monday that Taylor may be the best point guard in the country. Baylor coach Scott Drew wasn’t going to argue.
“He’s always had toughness and leadership,” Drew said. “He’s a guy that has gotten better each and every year.”
Never, though, has Taylor been as dominant as he’s been in Kansas’ past two games.
“I'm a senior,” Taylor said. “I know i can’t get this time back. I’m just trying to come out here and give it all I’ve got.”
Kansas may be the only team in the league with an unblemished Big 12 record, but Taylor knows the Big 12 race is far from over. The Jayhawks can’t play every game at Allen Fieldhouse, where they’ve won 85 of their last 86 games. Tough road tests await at Kansas State, Missouri and Baylor.
Maintaining the intensity with which they played Monday won’t be easy for the Jayhawks. But if Taylor keeps his current mentality, anything is possible.
“[The Big 12 title] is big to us,” Taylor said. “It’s big to the fans, it’s big to everyone who supports Kansas. Being a senior in this league, I don’t want it [the streak] to end on my watch.
“I’ve just got to lead by example and come to practice every day ... wanting to get better. If we continue to have good energy and be a good defensive team and come ready to play every day, I think we can be this good every night.”