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CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

Kansas' identity? If Kentucky doesn't watch out, call Jayhawks champs

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NEW ORLEANS -- Elijah's Event wouldn't quite nail it.

Tyshawn's Trey sounds better. Maybe.

How about T-Rob's Jam Job?

Kansas fans have lived with alliteration abuse for far too long. Mario's Miracle is four years old. Mario Chalmers' 3-pointer that sent the 2008 national title game into overtime seems like a lifetime ago on the KU calendar.

The biggest miracle might be that Kansas has gotten this far, playing for another national championship Monday night against Kentucky. If the Jayhawks follow through with the upset, the result will be alliteration free. Mostly because you have to include everyone in the effort.

This run has been juiced by guard Elijah Johnson playing above his pay grade -- a monster 3 late against Purdue, another to start a 12-0 run against North Carolina.

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Taylor's quotes have been better than his shooting. The third-team All-American still hasn't made a 3 in a dome in his career (0 for 20).

"I think every [tournament] game that we played -- on paper -- the team is better than us," he said.

Detroit, Purdue and North Carolina State thank him for the love that seems as misguided as some of his shooting.

T-Rob -- Thomas Robinson -- has been a force on and off the court. The season is climaxing with his battle against Kentucky's national Player of the Year, Anthony Davis. Except that Robinson hasn't quite gotten over that Davis is that national Player of the Year.

"I don't agree with the voters at all, not by a long shot," Robinson said. "Like I said before, my numbers don't lie. Quietly, I could send [Davis] a how-I-feel note."

It won't be quietly and it won't be a note.

"Only thing that stops me from this game is a bullet," Robinson said, "and I doubt that stops me."

Kansas has a chance -- a puncher's chance, admittedly -- because it has changed its game and its perception. This is the "worst" of Bill Self's nine teams in Lawrence. It isn't terrible. It just isn't thought to be great.

The Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, left for the NBA. A Big 12 official working a preseason scrimmage thought that former walk-on Brady Morningstar was the best player on the floor. One problem: Morningstar had graduated. He was an extra body that day from last season's team.

Just don't ask Self directly about the "worst" label. It's semantics. Kansas' worst could win a conference, which KU actually did for the eighth consecutive season. You have to wade through pages of press conference transcription to come up with code words like "transition years." Self talks in a lot of code. If Kansas has a chance Monday, it has to embrace a label seldom slapped on the Jayhawks.

Grinders.

Half-court, lane-wrestling, floor-burning grinders. Self calls it playing "a non-rhythmic game." That's not a bad thing. It's just a new thing for a program known for its elegant athletes, top draft picks, speed, size and skill.

"We didn't really have an identity," Self said. "What do we hang our hat on? Every team has to have that."

Something had to change after an embarrassing pre-Christmas loss to Davidson. The Wildcats were a tournament team, but they shouldn't be beating Kansas in a neutral-site game in Kansas City.

"I thought we were a stale team," Self said. "I thought we were slow. I thought we didn't play with great energy. ... I thought we were a little full of ourselves. ... But I still thought we would have a good team. These guys have spun that moment into something that made us a lot better down the road."

The identity basically began to emerge on Feb. 25 in Lawrence. Down by 19 in the second half, Kansas rallied to beat Missouri 87-86.

"That did give our guys confidence," Self said, "a great sense of pride."

It also started a trend. If the game was close, KU was going to win it. It won its final four consecutive games decided by seven points or less after going 3-3 in that category before that second Missouri game.

In this tournament, the Jayhawks have won by three, three and two points. They trailed at halftime against Purdue, N.C. State and Ohio State. They were tied at the half against Carolina. They won them all. Previously, Self had been 0-5 when trailing at halftime in NCAA tournament games at Kansas.

A trend continues: The Jayhawks have given up 68 points once since that Missouri game five weeks ago.

"We got to the point there's no question what we hang our hat on," Self said. "That's defending, rebound, be tough."

Grinders.

"No team wants to sweat it out for 38 games," Taylor said. "No team does. But you have to play a lot of close games, because as you get deep in the season you know you have to win close games to win it all."

In sizing up Kentucky, Self threw out the usual platitudes. But in the middle of the breakdown you could you see him start to think, "Hey, there's two teams on the court."

"We've got a guy that has kind of battled Anthony [Davis] neck-and-neck for the most part for national Player of the Year," he said.

T-Rob and his jam jobs.

"We got guards that can play with anybody, in my opinion."

Taylor, the guard that can't shoot straight, and Johnson, who suddenly can.

"We got a shot blocker who's hot right now."

Jeff Withey. You've probably heard that the 7-footer has turned into a reincarnation of Wilt Chamberlain. Withey's seven blocks Saturday against Ohio State were the most in Final Four history.

"We got a wing that can guard."

Glue guy Travis Releford.

Grinders.

"I feel like people feel like we got lucky to get here," Robinson said. "We still had to play those games, still had to make those comebacks, still had to make those stops. That's not luck, that's playing. I don't like how it's happened but it's happened."

Maybe the Kentucky Invitational has a gate crasher. Maybe Kansas won't come within 20. Maybe Davis and the 'Cats are emotionally spent after Saturday's summit with Louisville.

But maybe, improbably, Kardiac Kansas has another grinder left in it.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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