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Utah basketball: Brandon Taylor’s heart outgrows his frame

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utahís Brandon Taylor (11) shoots the ball as the University of Utah hosts Ball State, NCAA basketball Wednesday November 27, 2013 at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.

By Tony Jones

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Dec 17 2013 09:10AM
Updated Dec 17, 2013 11:12PM

Brandon Taylor could have sulked. He could have pouted. Utah’s sophomore guard easily could have disrupted team chemistry.

As the player most affected by Delon Wright’s rise to stardom, Taylor has remade himself when he could’ve been relegated to the role of a backup. Taylor was Larry Krystkowiak’s starter at point guard last season, with a large percentage of the Utes’ possessions beginning in his hands.

He plays more at the shooting guard spot this season, despite standing only 5-foot-8. He and Wright share the playmaking duties, but a lot of Taylor’s time is spent running off screens and spotting up for 3-pointers.

"We’re winning," Taylor said. "Who would I be to complain? Everyone can see how talented Delon is and how good he is with the ball. I just want to win games, and what we’re doing right now is working. I mean, we’re 9-1."

Taylor averages 10.8 points and 4.2 assists per game. He plays 30 minutes a night, and that is a testament to his willingness to change. There aren’t many sub-6-foot guards in college basketball. But Taylor’s made himself an important player in Krystkowiak’s rotation, even when his minutes could have been affected significantly by Wright’s emergence.

He did this by becoming Utah’s best shooter. He consistently spreads the floor with his 3-point range, whether off pick-and-rolls or spotting up.

Taylor also emerged as a vocal leader. Wright and Jordan Loveridge — Utah’s two best players — both are quiet and reserved by nature. Taylor has filled that void. He’s respected by his peers and often can be seen exhorting his teammates and directing them on the court. He’s easily the most outwardly brash player on the roster and carries himself with swagger and confidence that belies his spindly frame.

Most importantly, Taylor has become the Utes’ best perimeter defender. He may be short in stature, but he’s strong and athletic. Krystkowiak said he’s the hardest player on his team for opponents to set a screen on. He gets low and moves his feet better than any Utah player.

"There’s a blueprint, a mental aspect to defense," Krystkowiak said. "Brandon knows the rotations and where he needs to be. Having a year of knowledge under his belt has been a key. He’s constantly communicating, and he does a nice job being down in his stance."

Cedric Martin was one of the best defenders in the Pac-12 last season. With his departure, Krystkowiak needed someone to fill that void, and Taylor’s been the guy to do it. Taylor was the primary defender on Cougars star Tyler Haws in Utah’s win over BYU on Saturday. He chased Haws through screens and gave the BYU junior as little room to breathe as possible when the Cougars gave their star the ball. The Utes quickly came with a double team when Haws tried to take Taylor into the post to exploit his lack of size.

It worked as well as Krystkowiak and Utah’s coaching staff could’ve drawn it up. Haws went 3 for 11 from the field in 34 minutes. He scored 14 points by getting himself to the free-throw line nine times. Haws was held nine points below his season average and never was a real factor.

"He’s really done a lot for this team," Loveridge said. "He’s a leader out there, and he’s our best shooter. He helps handle the ball, and he’s a great defender. We need him out there."

Twitter: @tjonessltrib

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