Johnson steps into limelight in 72-56 win

Johnson steps into limelight in 72-56 win

The starting backcourt of Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Tyshawn Taylor combined for 44 of the 72 points scored by the Kansas Jayhawks on Tuesday night, as they took down the UCLA Bruins in the semi-finals of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Of all the eight shots Elijah Johnson hit Tuesday night, the biggest - both in a macro and a micro sense - came with 4:55 remaining.

With the UCLA Bruins in the midst of a massive run - having cut a 20-point deficit down to just five - and the shot clock winding down, the junior guard waved his teammates from the lane. Driving on UCLA's Tyler Lamb, he faked a step toward the basket before pulling up, drilling a deep jumper a half step inside the three-point line.

Though Bruins forward Travis Wear would respond immediately with a layup, Johnson's jumper sparked a 13-2 Kansas run, which the Jayhawks used to claim a 72-56 victory.

Beyond its importance in Tuesday night's game, however, the confidence Johnson showed in that moment might be an indicator of the ultra-talented guard's maturation; his preparedness to step into the spotlight at last.

On a night when UCLA's constant double-teams were causing star power forward Thomas Robinson a not insubstantial amount of grief, Johnson was - in a word - spectacular. He pumped in a game high 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. And though he did dole out just a single assist to three turnovers, he grabbed four rebounds and a pair of steals on the defensive end.

More important, however, when the Kansas offense stalled it was Johnson who stepped up to get things moving again.

In truth, the entire starting Jayhawks backcourt played its best basketball of the young season in the blowout win. Tyshawn Taylor scored 13 points and doled out six assists, while Travis Releford scored eight points and recorded two rebounds, assists and steals each.

Even more impressive, each of the trio played more than 30 minutes - paced by Johnson's 38 - proving they can stay on the court, stay out of foul trouble and stay effective.

Kansas raced out to a 43-26 halftime lead, pushing the margin to as many as 20 points, before the Bruins came roaring back on the strength of a six-minute stretch in which they made good on five three-point attempts.

The Jayhawks clamped down in crunch time, however, executing the offense and reclaiming the defensive intensity of the first half, forcing bad shots by UCLA and dominating the glass by a 32-21 margin for the game.

Next up, the No. 6 Duke Blue Devils in Wednesday's championship game. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m., and the contest will be televised on ESPN.

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