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Archive for Friday, March 23, 2007

Keegan: Jackson, Stewart spark KU

March 23, 2007

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— Sure, it was the main man, Brandon Rush, who snapped awake just in time Thursday inside HP Pavilion to take over offensively late in Kansas University's 61-58 survival job against college basketball's ultimate fighters, the Southern Illinois University Salukis.

Still, Kansas doesn't advance to the West Regional semifinal without the Saluki-style efforts of eighth man Darnell Jackson and ninth man Rod Stewart.

This was as much a cage match as a basketball game. That's the way Jackson and Stewart prefer the game be played. The junior reserves aren't only built like football players, they think like them. They play the sort of in-your-face basketbrawl the Salukis threw at KU for 40 minutes.

They would fit in perfectly for SIU, the West Region's No. 4 seed, which lost despite forcing 19 turnovers, limiting Kansas to one three-point field goal and one scorer in double figures and despite the Jayhawks' potentially fatal flaw - free-throw shooting late in games - resurfacing in such shockingly ugly fashion.

In the final 5:38, Kansas players not named Darnell Jackson made four of 11 free throws. Jackson made both of his, with 1:44 left, to push the Kansas lead to four points.

To make too big a deal about those shots would be to underestimate Jackson's overall value. He never begged for a whistle. He doesn't like whistles. He likes contact.

"I'm tired," Jackson said from his locker-room stool. "It was tough."

SIU made it that way, and so did Kansas with its untidy play.

"They were good," Jackson said. "They were good. They were real good, especially (Jamaal) Tatum. Man, his shot is crazy. He hit some big shots for them."

Jackson delivered shots and took them. Body shots.

"I had fun out there," Jackson said. "They were physical, hitting everybody. Everybody was diving on the floor. Their team was great. They like to get their noses dirty, and that's what I like. I like to play against guys who aren't afraid to get hurt. It turned out to be a great game."

Jackson stepped in front of a pass to Randal Falker for a huge steal with just more than four minutes left and Kansas leading by a point. Jackson shared the team lead with five rebounds and made all three of his field-goal attempts.

And he made the team awaken. Late in the game, shortly before Rush (12 points, 6-for-6 field goals) awakened, Jackson yelled Rush's name, glared at him, and commanded: "Come on!" Rush came on, all right, and Kansas is one victory away from advancing the Final Four for the first time since 2003.

Stewart, who came in averaging 5.8 minutes, played nine valuable ones. Immediately after springing off the bench in the first half, he took a charge. Then he hit a lane jumper. Later, he soared for an offensive rebound that prolonged a possession that ended with him driving to the hoop, getting fouled and making one of two.

"The charge boosted a lot of energy in me," Stewart said. "It was good to make a jump shot too, but I love defense. That's something I really enjoy doing, taking a charge."

Kansas took a hard charge from SIU, and the outcome that could have gone either way went KU's.

Three down, three to go.

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