LAS VEGAS – There was a new magic act that debuted on the Las Vegas strip Saturday, and Andre Jackson was the headliner.
The junior forward put on a show of otherworldly athleticism and basketball IQ as he led the fourth-seeded UConn men’s basketball team to an Elite Eight win over No. 3 seed Gonzaga, 82-54, at T-Mobile Arena.
There was a prolonged feeling out process for both teams to start the game. UConn had to figure out its offense, how it’d handle the way Gonzaga star Drew Timme defended the middle of the court, leaving Jackson (20 points, six rebounds) uncovered to have an extra big on Adama Sanogo (10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists). Gonzaga’s offense had to adjust to UConn’s speed and versatility, and it was a stalemate for much of the first half.
Eventually, toward the end of the half UConn got the ball into Sanogo’s hands and he backed down Ben Gregg, Gonzaga’s backup center, until Timme (12 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) turned his attention away from Jackson and joined the double on Sanogo. But Jackson drew no defensive attention as he cut to the basket, sneaking where Sanogo could quickly feed him the ball out of the double team for an open layup or dunk. The Huskies had the same fortune twice in a minute-long stretch before Zags head coach Mark Few switched Timme into man-to-man coverage on Sanogo and focused one of his forwards out on Jackson.
After a mad scramble to get a loose ball about a minute after throwing down an uncontested dunk, Jackson scooped it up and found Jordan Hawkins on the perimeter for his second 3-pointer of the half at the 1:23 mark.
The clock continued to wind down and when there were six seconds left, Sanogo set a high ball screen for Tristen Newton and rolled to the rim. But his defender stayed for the double team on Newton who recklessly bounced the ball toward the paint — gift wrapping a turnover. But Jackson outhustled two Gonzaga defenders and intercepted the pass headed for the other team, then immediately skipped the ball back over his left shoulder to a wide open Karaban for a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
A pair of Gonzaga players stood in the paint as the ball went through the net, Anton Watson and Hunter Sallis, dropped their shoulders and stood in bewilderment. UConn hustled into the locker room with a 39-32 lead.
It will be UConn’s sixth appearance in the Final Four; the Huskies are 4-1 with a national championship bid on the line.