The Kansas women’s basketball team had a size advantage and knew it, and the game plan from the jump was to throw the ball to center Taiyanna Jackson and let her go to work.
It turned out to be a pretty good plan, as the super-senior scored 25 points and grabbed 21 rebounds to lead the Jayhawks to a 67-53 home win over BYU on Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
The win moved KU to 11-10 overall and 4-6 in Big 12 play, and, more importantly set the Jayhawks up with some good vibes as they embark on a key portion of their schedule.
Watching Jackson dominate games is nothing new for most of the Jayhawks. She’s had tons of double-doubles and 20-point games and rebounding nights throughout her three seasons as a Jayhawk.
But there was something about this one that seemed to hit a little different.
"She was relentless," KU coach Brandon Schneider said after the win, calling Jackson's night a complete performance on both ends.
Remember, this is still just a few games removed from Jackson having two teeth knocked out of her mouth during KU's road loss at Kansas State. While she might have been a little gun shy about sticking her face back in there in the very next outing, she appeared to be all the way past that on Wednesday night.
Maybe it was because it came when the Jayhawks really needed it. Maybe it was because it looked so easy and she did most of it while smiling. Or maybe it was because of the hope a performance like that brings for the Jayhawks for the rest of the season, which has eight games left in the regular season and whatever postseason games this team gets from there.
After Wednesday’s win, senior guard Zakiyah Franklin and freshman S’Mya Nichols talked with R1S1 Sports about the importance of Jackson’s big night.
“She was great. We really needed that,” said Nichols, who added 17 points of her own. “She was probably the biggest mismatch out there. We automatically knew that we were going to pass it in to her and she was just gonna go to work. I can speak for all of my teammates when I say that.”
Added Franklin: “She just put her dominance on full display, that’s what she did. Keeping possessions alive for us and herself. It was phenomenal. And to see her do that means a lot.”
Franklin, who recently set the KU record for most games played in a career, has seen Jackson at her most dominant, and Wednesday night was a reminder of how good this team can be when the KU center is dialed in.
“If she can do that, that opens up a lot for the rest of us,” Franklin said. “Not only that, if she gets to the free throw line after she gets fouled; they can’t do nothing with her. She had it going, so we needed to get the ball into her.”
Jackson’s big night came on 10-of-16 shooting and would’ve been even bigger if she had shot better than 5-of-12 at the free throw line. Didn’t matter. Her 12 offensive rebounds gave her plenty of extra chances to add to her point total and she added 5 blocks to remind everyone that she’s more than just an offensive menace.
“Twin always has that in her,” Nichols said, using the KU center’s nickname which everyone on the team calls her. “It’s a matter of if it comes out. And that’s what we’re really working on right now, feeding her the ball and letting her work one-on-one.”
Nichols said there was no need for anyone in the KU locker room to try to pump Jackson up or challenge her with any pregame motivational tactics. Instead, it’s all about chemistry and confidence.
“You just really need to be on the same page and have the same aggressive energy as she gives off,” Nichols said. “Keep talking to her, letting her know, ‘You’re good. We got you.’ ‘We’re looking for you down low.’ Stuff like that.”
What about in the moments when things don’t go well and she misses a bunny or feels like she’s not getting a favorable whistle?
Same plan. It’s all about the same page.
“We just try to bring her back down and tell her you’re still getting the ball,” Nichols added. “Nothing changes. You’re fine. Just go to work.”
That’s exactly what Jackson did against the Cougars, who Kansas will play again in Provo, Utah in 17 days. Between now and then, it’s Saturday at TCU and then home for two against Houston and Cincinnati.
For all of those games and whatever comes after them, Franklin said the Jayhawks’ message to their star center would be the same.
“We just tell her to be dominant. Be her,” she said.
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