Jackson's Gophers era is golden Senior's 23-point effort ends his 47-11 Minn. run

March 30, 1997|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- His season and his college career had just imploded under Kentucky's relentless pressure, but Minnesota's Bobby Jackson was still living in the past.

"The next time we get in this situation -- or the next time Minnesota gets in this situation -- hopefully they can take care of the ball and handle the pressure," Jackson said, catching his faux pas in mid-sentence.

"This situation" was the national semifinals, and Minnesota's wonderful season screeched to a disappointing halt with a 78-69 loss to Kentucky. For Jackson, it was the end of a remarkable two-year career after his transfer from Western Nebraska Community College.

With Jackson as a starter, the Golden Gophers went 47-11 those two years.

"I think I had a great two years at the University of Minnesota," he said. "They treated me well. All I wanted was the chance, and Coach [Clem] Haskins gave me the chance. Our record speaks for itself. Everybody doubted us in the beginning of the year. And we just worked really hard to get in this situation."

Fueled by their NCAA tournament snub of a year ago, and inspired by their 6-foot-1 guard, the Gophers went 31-4 this season to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history.

Jackson held up his end to the last game, scoring 23 points against Kentucky in 35 minutes. He hit eight of 18 shots, and had four assists with six turnovers.

Altogether, Minnesota had 26 turnovers against Kentucky's press, and that was the death knell to their title hopes. The Wildcats set the tone in the opening minutes, when Minnesota turned the ball over on each of its first four possessions.

Jackson allowed that the Gophers came out tight.

"I think so," he said. "We came out a little too anxious and didn't take care of the ball. When you play against a great team like Kentucky, you can't have a couple of turnovers in the beginning. They capitalized on them.

"We came up with jitters in the first couple of minutes. When you play a team like that, you've got to take your time and execute. We didn't do that."

Battling uphill, the Gophers took their best shot at Kentucky midway through the second half. Their best shot was a 21-foot three-pointer that Jackson buried from the left side. It gave Minnesota its first lead -- and only lead -- at 52-51.

That triggered a 17-5 Kentucky run that has the Wildcats on the brink of back-to-back national titles.

When Scott Padgett and Cameron Mills hit consecutive three-pointers, it was 68-57 and the game was over.

"We went out and played our hearts out," Jackson said. "I'm not ashamed of what happened because we overcame a lot of odds."

Jackson won the respect of the Wildcats.

"He's a great player," Anthony Epps said. "A very unselfish player, almost too unselfish. Lucky for us he was because I think that played into our hands."

Kentucky's road

NCAA tournament results for Kentucky, which was the No. 1 seed in the West Regional:

Team (Seed) ............. Result

West Regional

Montana (16) ............ W, 92-54

Iowa (8) ................ W, 75-69

St. Joseph's (4) ........ W, 83-68

Utah (2) ................ W, 72-59

National semifinals

Minnesota (1 M'west) .... W, 78-69

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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