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Kansas' Taylor goes from untrustworthy to hard not to trust

by | College Basketball Recruiting Blogger
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NEW ORLEANS -- If this were two years ago, or even last season, Saturday's game against Ohio State would have likely ended differently for Tyshawn Taylor.

Taylor, Kansas' senior point guard, has been much maligned throughout his Jayhawks career for being erratic and mistake-prone. He's missed key free throws on more than one occasion; he's committed turnovers down the stretch of games; he's disappeared in big spots due to frustration.

As Taylor stepped to the free-throw line against Ohio State with 8.3 seconds left, Kansas was nursing a one-point lead. Twice this season -- against Kansas State and Missouri -- Taylor fell short at the charity stripe in the waning seconds.

Not on Saturday.

Taylor calmly stepped to the line and knocked down both free throws, giving Kansas a 64-62 win in the Final Four.

"I went up to the line, knowing I was going to make it," Taylor said.

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Taylor then stole the inbounds pass from William Buford -- before throwing it away and giving Ohio State one last chance. It was Taylor embodied completely in one sequence, but this time the good outweighed the bad. It has not always been that way for Taylor.

Since arriving in Lawrence four years ago, there's always been a caveat with Taylor. He's mixed big games with paltry performances. He's mixed leadership with off-court altercations and social network snafus.

"The first year, he came in and thought he knew a lot more than he knew," assistant coach Kurtis Townsend said. "Now he's the guy that brings all the other guys up."

"My mentality has grown and matured in a huge, huge way," Taylor added. "It's like everyone else that went to college. I changed drastically."

Over the past three months, there hasn't been a point guard in college basketball better than Taylor. He's had 10 20-point performances in his last 20 games, and he averaged 18.6 points and 4.7 assists in Big 12 play.

While Thomas Robinson got most of the attention for the Jayhawks, it was Taylor bringing it on a consistent basis that transformed Kansas from a second-tier contender to a team that is one win away from a national championship. It's not the same Taylor from last season.

"When Ty leads us, we can't be beat," junior forward Kevin Young said. "He's an amazing guard. When he talks to us, he's an extension of coach. He's learned how to be more of a leader. A lot of players can't be talked to the same way, and he's learned that. Each of us has our own way."

Aaron Craft frustrated Taylor to no end in the first half, forcing him into turnovers and forced shots. Taylor only finished 3-for-11 from the field, but that didn't stop him from making plays on the offensive end. He still managed to dish out nine assists and ran the Kansas offense effectively down the stretch.

The old Taylor might have continued to force shots; this one can be trusted to make the smart play at the right time.

"In game-time situations, I don't get shaken up," Taylor said. "I stay calm, cool and collected. I might get sped up, but I keep my head."

Townsend said that Taylor controlled the game in the second half better than Craft, at both ends of the floor. He didn't let Craft initiate the Ohio State offense on a consistent basis late in the game, forcing the Buckeyes into several bad possessions during Kansas' comeback.

When it came time for Taylor to make free throws in the final seconds, his teammates weren't concerned about his previous problems in the clutch. They knew they could count on the senior from New Jersey.

"He's matured a ton. He's been so huge for us," senior Conner Teahan. "Throughout the season, it's been free throws. But he learned a lot from the situations he's been in. He's done a great job."

Heading into Monday night's championship game against Kentucky, the questions about Taylor's leadership or whether he can be trusted in a big game are almost non-existent.

The only thing hanging over Taylor's head is his 0-for-20 shooting performance from 3-point range in the NCAA tournament.

"I gotta make a 3," he said. "I promise."

Given his performance over the last three months, one has to believe him.

It's now become hard not to trust Taylor.

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