Cruising along, Estill faces bump in road: Marquette's Jackson

Ky.'s frontline standout to get 1st test of tourney

NCAA Tournament

Midwest Regional

March 29, 2003|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - Even as you're rolling toward a Final Four - as Kentucky and center Marquis Estill are - playing undermanned opponents can lose its thrill.

So in the form of Marquette's frontline, led by fifth-year senior center Robert Jackson, legitimate resistance in the paint comes face-to-face with the Wildcats and Estill, who has so far bumped and bounced his way to a 19.6-point average in the NCAA tournament.

On Thursday night, the 6-foot-9 Estill moved Kentucky into the Midwest Regional final with a career-high 28-point effort in a 63-57 win over a Wisconsin team that didn't double-team him for much of the game.

Jackson and the Golden Eagles will certainly alter Kentucky's frontline outlook.

"They've got big bodies, so it won't be as easy as it's been the last few games," said Estill, whose 32-3 team faces Marquette (26-5) at 4:40 p.m. today for the right to move on to the Final Four in New Orleans. "They're strong and aggressive inside. I'm looking forward to more of a challenge."

Overshadowed by Dwyane Wade's show against Pittsburgh, Jackson quietly displayed a quality game in Marquette's 77-74 victory over the favored Panthers, scoring 16 points.

Power forward Scott Merritt also had 17 points for Marquette, but Jackson, at 6-9, 255 pounds, has more of an NBA body that causes concern.

"He's a beast - so strong," Kentucky's Jules Camara said of Jackson, who is averaging 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds this season.

Jackson wouldn't even be here for Kentucky to deal with if not for his dissatisfaction with Mississippi State, where he spent his first three seasons after coming from Milwaukee's Washington High, alma mater of Latrell Sprewell.

Making the move from Milwaukee to Starkville in 1998 happened because Marquette reportedly took a rather passive approach in recruiting Jackson.

Jackson had averaged double digits in scoring in his sophomore and junior years, but he said he didn't feel like his game was changing. He could overpower opponents, but little more. He had no left hand. The Bulldogs staff felt like what he was doing was fine and had no interest in helping him improve.

"I decided I needed a change," said Jackson, 24, who also wanted to be closer to his daughter, Lexis, age 6. "I went to Mississippi State to win championships and to make the tournament, and I never did in the three years I was there."

After a four-hour conversation, Crean was satisfied that Jackson was switching programs for the right reasons.

"I wanted to hear about his work ethic, how hard he was willing to work on his own, how important graduating was to him," Crean said. "Those things came up in those couple hours. I was convinced that he wanted a fresh start and he wanted to be home for the right reasons."

Jackson vaguely remembers Estill in his time at Mississippi State.

"Back then, they had Jamal Magloire, so he came off the bench for them," Jackson said. Estill won't gather a recollection of Jackson, even though the two likely played each other in the 2000-01 season.

"I didn't even know he played at Mississippi State," he said.

Estill would rather forget much of his first three years at Kentucky. At various points, he found himself academically ineligible, injured, overweight and in an unsuccessful quest for playing time.

Estill would prefer to revel in the present. Down from 300 pounds, he is now a lean, mean, jump-hooking machine of 236 pounds. "My knees haven't bothered me all year, and it's been an enjoyable season," he said.

And on the court, last year's starting post, current reserve Camara, said that if NBA scouts were to pick a Kentucky player, he would point them to Estill first over Keith Bogans, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.

"No one can stop him one-on-one," Camara said of the Richmond, Ky., native.

Estill's performance in the Wisconsin game - the highest scoring total by any Kentucky player this year - reminded him of his high school days.

But he pointed out that he's normally the first option in most games. So did coach Tubby Smith yesterday when comparing Marquette and Kentucky - with the parallels between Wade and ... Estill.

"With Wade, they have a real difference-maker," Smith said. "He's their go-to guy. Marquis Estill is our go-to guy."

Midwest final

No. 1 Kentucky (32-3) vs. No. 3 Marquette (26-5)

Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis

Time: 4:40 p.m. today

Conference records: Going 19-0 in Southeastern Conference games, Kentucky is the first team since 1952 to go undefeated against SEC competition. Marquette cruised through the Conference USA's regular season, going 14-2 to win the American Division.

Coaches: Tubby Smith is 164-46 in six years at Kentucky, and 288-108 in 12 seasons overall. Tom Crean is 82-41 in his fourth season at Marquette.

Kentucky's lineup: G Keith Bogans (15.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg), G Gerald Fitch (12.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg), F Chuck Hayes (8.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg), F Erik Daniels (9.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg), C Marquis Estill (11.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg).

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