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Kansas thin, but maturing into team that could make run at Final Four

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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Tyshawn Taylor is now giving opponents headaches, instead of being one for his coaches. (Getty Images)  
Tyshawn Taylor is now giving opponents headaches, instead of being one for his coaches. (Getty Images)  

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- In case you're wondering, the Big 12 title still runs through Lawrence.

Baylor and its two potential NBA lottery picks, its 18 victories and zero defeats, and its lofty No. 3 ranking strolled into Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night with the intent of proving it was a legitimate national title contender. Just hold down Thomas Robinson, beat an underwhelming Kansas Jayhawks team and strut back to Waco with a résumé that would stack up favorably with any team in the nation -- including top-ranked Syracuse.

Instead, the Bears left with their tails between their legs.

This Kansas team was written off on Dec. 19, the day the Jayhawks suffered their third loss of the season. The first two were legit: against Kentucky in Madison Square Garden and to Duke out in Maui.

But then came the setback to Davidson down the road in Kansas City.

"That's when everyone gave up on us," Kansas star Thomas Robinson said.

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This has been billed as Robinson's team, one with a relentless 6-foot-8 junior and virtually nothing else. Shut down Robinson, and the Jayhawks don't have enough other bullets.

Kentucky frustrated Robinson, doubling him and forcing him to make poor, often selfish decisions. Davidson doubled him as well, forcing his teammates to shoulder the load.

But Robinson has matured.

"He's so much better now because he's more patient and he's understanding how he's going to score," Kansas coach Bill 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 skill set and his body."

But it's more than just Robinson and his willingness to share the ball and trust his teammates -- as he has done over the past few games. It's up to senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who has been crucified nationally, whether it be for his fight with the football team, his social-network exploits or his abundance of miscues on the court.

This team didn't have any margin for error after three freshmen failed to qualify academically. Self has no option but to give five guys long minutes. When it's time for him to use the bench, his top choices are a couple of former walk-ons.

But when Taylor plays as he has during the past couple games, the Jayhawks are no joke. He went for 28 points, had six assists and five turnovers -- and slit the Baylor defense apart. In fact, he made it look like the Bears defense back in the old days, the one that was considered a laughingstock for its inability to stop anyone.

"He's the key," Robinson said.

"Tyshawn, the last couple games, has been as good as any guard around," Self added.

While this program might not have the kind of overall talent that usually roams the campus in Lawrence, there's enough to do some damage. Just ask Baylor.

"They're better than people think," Drew said. "At the beginning of the year, they were trying to figure things out."

Seven-footer Jeff Withey didn't just stand up to a Baylor front line that boasts as much talent as any in the country that doesn't reside in Lexington, Ky. He, along with Robinson, intimidated the Bears. They did what no team has done -- and likely what no team will do the remainder of the season: They pummeled Baylor on the glass, 39-24.

"We kept attacking," Robinson said.

"We stopped attacking," Baylor coach Scott Drew explained, shaking his head in disbelief.

For good reason. Withey swatted three shots -- and altered about 10 more. Perry Jones III finished with 18 points, but he was a complete nonfactor when Kansas began to stretch its lead to double figures heading into the break.

Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson, who round out Kansas' starting unit, added 11 points apiece and were solid -- and that's all this team needs as long as Robinson, Taylor and Withey produce.

"It was a collective effort," Taylor said.

Kansas was the tougher team. However, as we've seen throughout the season, it's difficult to win on the road -- especially at arguably the most hostile environment in the country: Phog Allen.

It's only one game, but it was a damn impressive one for the Jayhawks. It put Kansas back in the equation -- not just for public perception, either.

"We needed this," Taylor added.

He needed this.

Baylor will return and regroup. It's still a team that has still rolled off 17 of its first 18 and could wind up in New Orleans in April. But this game wasn't nearly as much about a Bears team trying to establish itself as it was about a Jayhawks team trying to re-establish itself among the elite.

This one gave those in Lawrence hope, that maybe this team still has enough. It has arguably the nation's top player in Robinson, a point guard fully capable of dominating against elite competition, and enough role guys to help knock off the No. 3 team in the nation.

"I'm not saying people were sleeping on us, but I don't think they knew what to expect," Taylor said. "They didn't know what we had."

Seven consecutive Big 12 crowns -- and maybe an eighth on the way.

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