Texas guard Isaiah Taylor drives around West Virginia's Tarik Phillip at the Erwin Center on February 16, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

Men's Basketball

Zay’s world: Texas guard Isaiah Taylor can leave lasting mark during NCAAs

Junior guard heads into tournament with career-high scoring, shooting, assist numbers

Posted March 17th, 2016

Story highlights
  • On Friday, No. 11 seed Northern Iowa will have its own leading scorer, Wes Washpun, guard Taylor.
  • One-fifth of Taylor's shots this season have come within the final five minutes of the game, according to research.
  • Taylor has another tough choice to make in regards to the NBA Draft; one scout said pro teams worry about his shooting.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Walking up the ramp toward the exit of Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum, Isaiah Taylor felt bullet-proof. Texas needed a win on that cool February night, and sure enough, Taylor delivered exactly that in Manhattan.

As usual, Taylor didn’t get going until after halftime. He scored 13 of his 19 points after the break, dished out seven assists and hit all 13 free throws in the Longhorns’ 71-70 win.

“Zay,” as Taylor’s known, had the right to strut because of one shot — a critical in-your-face 3-pointer over Barry Brown with 43 seconds left. For a point guard who made only 16 3-point shots all season, it was definitely memorable.

Texas guard Isaiah Taylor shoots against Kansas at the Erwin Center on February 29, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
Texas guard Isaiah Taylor shoots against Kansas at the Erwin Center on February 29, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

If Texas (20-12) has any hope of advancing in the NCAA Tournament, then Taylor must deliver again and again. The journey begins Friday against No. 11 seed Northern Iowa.

“The best players have the ball in their hands at the end of the games,” said Taylor, who pointed out that Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Iowa State’s Georges Niang take big shots late for their teams. Why shouldn’t he do that for the Longhorns? “That’s just how it works out,” he said.

Taylor anguished over whether to return to school last spring. Now, many inside the Texas program believe he’ll jump into the NBA draft this summer without looking back.

If that’s the case, this tournament is Taylor’s last chance to leave a lasting mark. Last year, he was Texas’ second-leading scorer in the opening-round loss to Butler, going 6 of 15 from the field. Two years ago as a freshman, Taylor had 11 points and six assists in the 87-85 win over Arizona State, then exploded for 22 against Michigan.

Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said he’ll make the Panthers’ leading scorer, Wes Washpun, guard the Longhorns’ scoring leader.

Taylor heads into Chesapeake Energy Arena with career-high scoring (14.8), shooting (.418) and assist (4.9) numbers. He certainly gets the ball when it counts the most. Taylor has taken more than one-fifth of his shots this season with less than five minutes remaining, according to ShotAnalytics.com.

Texas coach Shaka Smart acknowledged that Taylor, the team’s leading scorer, needs to play well against UNI. But everyone does, Smart said.

“Isaiah’s one of our best players, so we need him first and foremost to pour into his teammates,” Smart said. “Understand, to do anything bigger than himself, he’s going to need more than himself. That’s been the message to all of our guys.”

Anyone that’s followed Taylor’s career knows he’s a penetrate-and-pop scorer, a lightning quick mid-range threat who finds far more success inside the paint than out. That’s great at the college level, but simply doesn’t work for 6-3 guards in the pros.

“He won games for them with some big shots,” an NBA scout said. “Guys are impressed with the way he finishes runners and floaters. Nobody expected (Texas) to do this well, and he’s a big part of it. But the biggest negative is the kid can’t shoot. How hard is he going to work on it?”

Who's got the rock?

Texas guard Isaiah Taylor takes a higher percentage of his shots in the last five minutes than does some of his high-profile opponents.
PlayerShots in last 5 min.FG pct.
Isaiah Taylor, Texas18.7 pct.41.0
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma13.4 pct.49.3
Georges Niang, Iowa State10.3 pct.43.0
Frank Mason, Kansas10.1 pct.31.0
Taurean Prince, Baylor8.8 pct.36.0
Statistics provided by ShotAnalytics.com

The scout said NBA teams place an incredible emphasis on private workouts, where general managers want to see how players defend the pick-and-roll in three-on-three situations. In those settings, the help-side defender isn’t some 19- or 20-year-old psychology major; it could be an All-Star.

The NCAA recently changed the rules and allows players more time to make a decision on their future. Texas will keep the door wide open for Taylor’s return, but even his family members were split on what he should’ve done last year.

At the moment, the scouts that follow Texas consider Taylor a second-round prospect. Hield stayed an extra year and now is considered a top-15 pick. Niang stayed an extra year, and it’s still unclear whether he has an NBA future at all.

“The NBA is as honest as they can be with these kids,” the scout said. “They get bad advice from the people around them that have no clue.”

Here’s a look at Texas guard Isaiah Taylor’s season-long shot chart and where he finds success, according to ShotAnalytics.com.

Taylor’s mother, Loretta Perkins, told the American-Statesman last November that Isaiah initially had serious regrets about staying in school. But new coach Shaka Smart helped smooth things over, and Taylor quickly warmed to the new coach.

“I won’t say he was totally unhappy, but his spirit wasn’t where it should have been,” Perkins said. “His spirit is back now.”

Taylor talked of wanting to “do something special with Shaka,” referring to the coach on a first-name basis before the season even started. “Yeah, I think that’s OK. Shaka.”

When you score 27 points in the season opener against Washington and 26 at Stanford, the coach will probably let you call him whatever you like. Taylor went wild in Lubbock, piling up a career-high 35 points against Texas Tech. But scouts saw 0 for 2 — Taylor’s stat line from 3-point range that day.

Sometime in January was when Taylor started getting nagged by plantar fasciitis, an extremely sharp, shooting pain in his right heel. It really flared up after the thrilling home win over No. 3 Oklahoma, a Saturday afternoon game that included Texas’ 22-0 run.

Taylor could barely walk on Sunday. He’d gone 1 for 10 from the field and just didn’t look like himself the next night against Kansas. The problem hasn’t really gone away. Taylor’s managing the pain as best he can.

“You know I like to go left. Everybody knows I like to go left. It’s no secret,” Taylor said. “You go left, you gotta push off your right foot. It affects things a little bit, like landing, but that’s no excuse. I’m going to play regardless.”

Cutting Taylor’s foot clean off is the only way you’ll keep him away from Northern Iowa. He’d crawl to center court should Texas advance and face Texas A&M. For someone who wants to impress others, this is when to do your best work, painful as it may be.

“Messing up people’s brackets, I mean, I don’t know what that feels like,” Taylor said. “I want that feeling.”