Date story published: Sunday, March 30, 2003
MINNEAPOLIS -- Although Mississippi State fans called out his name every time he scored -- "Ro-bert Jack-son" -- over three seasons, Kentucky center Marquis Estill had claimed not to remember him. Apparently, Jackson, now finishing his career at Marquette, was just another faceless opponent banished to hoop oblivion by UK.
"I don't know what he was thinking," a smiling Jackson said yesterday. "But he knows me now. "It was a day for reaquaintance and long-lasting memories. Jackson's 24 points and 15 rebounds helped lead Marquette to a surprisingly one-sided 83-69 victory over Kentucky.
The game not only ended Kentucky's magical season one victory short of the Final Four, it reacquainted the Cats with defeat. UK had won 26 straight, the nation's longest winning streak since 1996, and not lost since Dec. 28.
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For all of Jackson's tower-of-strength pounding and teammate Dwyane Wade's triple-double glitter (29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists), UK strained to comprehend having fewer points than the opposition.
"You almost don't believe it," Chuck Hayes said as he fought back tears. "Like it's not true. It's not supposed to end this way."
Kentucky, which had trailed less than five minutes in the second halves of the last 20 games, played uphill throughout most of this game. Jackson's put-back put Marquette ahead for good with 10:25 left in the first half.
Jackson, an inch taller and 24 pounds heavier, had the size to contain Estill by bodying him farther from the basket. "I saw on film that every time he was getting the ball was deep under the basket," Jackson said of Estill's 46 points against outmanned Utah and Wisconsin. "If you catch it there, anybody can score."
Jackson more than neutralized Estill, who scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds. "They did their homework," Hayes said of Marquette. "They knew 'Queese' was our go-to guy. They pushed him off the block."
With Keith Bogans hobbled by the two-day-old high ankle sprain, Kentucky searched for offensive weapons. It didn't help any that foul trouble limited Hayes to 17 scoreless minutes.
"It was the worst thing that could happen," Hayes said. "All our options really were not available. We had nowhere to go."
Kentucky (32-4) knew it would be difficult to overcome Bogans' injury. Early on, UK made up the difference by rebounding fanatically (a 12-5 edge on the boards in the first nine minutes).
The surprise was Kentucky's defense, or lack thereof. Marquette shot 56.4 percent, the second-best accuracy by a UK opponent this season.
"We just didn't come out with the intensity we needed," Erik Daniels said. "They threw the ball where they wanted. Jackson pounded us inside."
Marquette seized the game in the last 7:45 of the first half. After a Bogans' three-pointer reduced UK's deficit to 22-19, Marquette reeled off 10 straight points. Jackson and Wade accounted for seven.
Freshman Steve Novak, a 52.1-percent three-point shooter, drilled three three-pointers in the final 3:44 to help put Marquette ahead 45-26 at halftime.
"We had to give a little more help on Jackson and Wade," Cliff Hawkins said. "That kind of helped the three-point shooters get open.
"We didn't have an answer for them. Once they got the big lead, it was pretty much over."
Kentucky did not quit. "We were frustrated," Hawkins said. "But we didn't want to lose like that. If we were going to lose, we wanted to go down fighting."
Visibly more aggressive, the Cats reduced Marquette's lead to 59-47 on an Antwain Barbour steal and driving dunk.
Barbour, a candidate to fill the vacuum created by Bogans' injury, made another steal on the next possession and seemed headed for the fast-break layup that would reduce the deficit to 10 with more than 10 minutes left.
Barbour spun around Todd Townsend, but then banged into Novak. Asked if he saw the freshman, Barbour said, "No. Not at all. I just wanted to get to the basket."
The charging call stopped Kentucky cold. "The blow of a whistle can change a lot," Hayes said.
From there, Wade took over, scoring 13 of Marquette's next 17 points. He dunked on the fast break while being fouled by Estill. He swished the third of his three three-pointers (he'd had only 11 previously this season).
"It was huge," Hayes said of Wade's surprising three-point accuracy. "The guy, he's a great player. He took over."
"We had to stay back on the big man," Bogans said of Jackson, "and Wade went to work."
Jackson credited Estill's faulty memory as motivation.
"I had a mind-set," Jackson said. "I wouldn't be denied."