March 19, 2022 

The difference maker: How Taiyanna Jackson led Kansas to the second round of the NCAA Tournament

The third quarter against Georgia Tech on Friday was Jackson's time to shine

PALO ALTO, Calif. — In March Madness, there are no second chances. One run or one sequence where one player rises to the challenge can make all the difference. In the first-round matchup between No. 8 seed Kansas and No. 9 seed Georgia Tech, Taiyanna “Twin” Jackson was that player. And the third quarter was her time.

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The first half of the first-round matchup was a close, up-and-down contest. Kansas rushed out to a 10-0 start before Georgia Tech countered with a 12-0 run of its own. A late second-quarter Kansas run gave the Jayhawks a 34-31 lead at halftime.

Kansas and Georgia Tech battle it out in a first-round NCAA Tournament matchup on March 18, 2022. (Photo credit: Kansas WBB Twitter (@KUWBball))

Noticeably absent from most of the action was Big 12 All-Defensive Team honoree Taiyanna Jackson, who played only five first-half minutes due to foul trouble. The 6’6 center is fifth in the country with 3.1 blocks per game and is “huge on the defensive end,” as sophomore guard Chandler Prater said to reporters before the game.

On the other end, “[Taiyanna’s] offense is the underrated part of her game,” added junior guard Holly Kersgieter after the game. “People see her as a defensive presence, and we know how much she’s capable of offensively, and she’s just as big of a threat.”

So powerful is Jackson’s presence that Kansas coach Brandon Schneider “really debated playing her with two [fouls] in the first half,” he told reporters after the game. But Kansas made a run, so Schneider held back.

Then the third quarter started, Jackson entered, and she took over.

First, a sequence that showed her skills on both ends:

Good hands and a finish for two points on one end, then a great contest—straight up without fouling—to prevent two points on the other. Two possessions later, Jackson exerted her presence again on both ends:

She used all of her 6’6 frame to grab the offensive rebound and lay it back in. Then she forced Georgia Tech center Nerea Hermosa to make an extra move on the other end, which was enough to prevent the shot from going in. And the very next possession, Jackson was back on the boards:

In two minutes in the third quarter, Jackson went on a personal 6-0 run, with three rebounds and multiple contests at the rim. Her efforts continued to stretch the lead:

As soon as Danai Papadopoulou secured the rebound, Jackson was off and running. The camera couldn’t even catch up to her! By the time Jackson was back on frame, she had an awesome seal on Georgia Tech’s Lorela Cubaj. With great technique to get into that position, along with her strength, there was no hope for Cubaj. Easy pass, easy layup. That pushed Kansas’ lead to 10, and it would never get lower than nine. Jackson’s defense made sure of that:

As Kersgeiter said after the game, Jackson’s offense is underrated, and she displayed some of her versatility on this sharp move and assist here:

Back on defense, Georgia Tech kept challenging the Big 12 All-Defensive Team center, and Jackson kept denying them:

After that emphatic block, Jackson let out a scream, and why wouldn’t she? The junior-college transfer had made it to Kansas, had made it to March Madness, and took over the game. As the third quarter neared its end, Jackson gave one final contest and snagged yet another rebound, and ESPN followed through with a segment on her dominance:

When Jackson checked out with one minute to go in the third quarter, she had eight points on 4-for-4 shooting, five rebounds, an assist and two blocks. While those stats are impressive, they don’t capture the contests at the rim, the hard screens and the total effect Jackson had on the game. But to see Jackson’s true effect, one could just look at the scoreboard. Jackson’s dominant quarter paved the way for Kansas to turn a three-point halftime lead into a 15-point cushion, which it would carry to a 77-58 victory.

“[Taiyanna] was terrific and probably the primary difference in the second half,” Schneider said. “I thought she was terrific on both ends of the floor. One of her more complete games, particularly in the second half, of the entire season.”

Thanks to Kansas’ difference-maker, the Jayhawks are on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Next up is Stanford on Sunday at 6:40 p.m. PST, and Jackson will face off with another imposing shot-blocker, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Cameron Brink.

Written by Sam Hwang

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