ALBANY — Andre Jackson Jr. isn’t going to question his mom, so he wasn’t prepared to verify Tricia Altieri’s estimate of several hundred friends and family in attendance at MVP Arena for UConn’s commanding victory over Iona in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday.
Suffice to say, the Amsterdam native had way more than his share of support among over 14,000 people that night, and will do so again when the Huskies take on Saint Mary’s in the second round at 6:10 p.m. on Sunday.
Jackson is in the unique position among players at this site of having a wealth of direct hometown support — actual voices in the seats and not just text messages from afar.
That also has created the potential for him to divert attention from his job, which is to be a dynamic, versatile guard who helps get the Huskies into the fast pace they prefer.
He didn’t let that happen, scoring 10 points and racking up seven assists (three of which led to dunks), five rebounds and two blocks in 33 minutes.
“Just trying to stay with my team and avoid all distractions, limit them and focus on what really matters, which is we came here to win basketball games,” Jackson said on Saturday afternoon. “It’s awesome to be home, but I’m here all the time. I can always come back when the tournament’s over.”
Sticking to business doesn’t mean playing like a robot, either, and Jackson’s game, as usual, certainly reflected that against the Gaels, most noticeably on a fast-break two-handed dunk early in the first half to give UConn a 14-11 lead.
Iona called timeout, and the play energized the crowd as well as Jackson, who pounded his chest, which was fine by itself, except he also looked back to glare at the Iona bench.
Coming out of the timeout, he was advised by one of the referees: Don’t do that.
“Just playing with passion,” Jackson said. “I saw a couple people over down the sideline and, I don’t know … just playing hard. Showing them I’m here, showing them I’m ready to compete.
“I feel like that’s part of basketball and part of sports, is showing your passion and sometimes letting that emotion out.
“Never try to play emotional, but I definitely sometimes let my emotions out while I’m playing. I wear my heart on my sleeve, so sometimes that comes out, but I try to keep my emotions intact, try to remain focused on the things that matter most and really execute those things.”
He said he didn’t have a good guess on how big the Capital Region Jackson crew will be on Sunday, but appreciates whatever extra support he gets.
“I have no clue,” he said. “My mom put that number out there, but I’m not sure how many will be here, but it’s definitely going to be a lot and they’re all going to be wearing UConn stuff rooting for us, so that’s good.”
The matchup between UConn and Saint Mary’s, part of the West Regional that will be played in Las Vegas next weekend, represents opposing styles: fast and high-scoring vs. slow and methodical, respectively.
“When we play our style, it’s very hard to beat us,” UConn freshman forward Alex Karaban said. “We’re just going to play our style of basketball. We’re going to play defense and try to get out there and run, which we’ve been pretty successful at. If we do that, I think we’ll be just fine.”
“Obviously, you could extend your defense and do some things to try to speed them up and get them outside their comfort zone,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said. “If your ball screen defense isn’t 1,000% on point, [Aidan] Mahaney and [Logan] Johnson will just eat you alive.”
“We play hard. We play strong. We don’t give up,” Saint Mary’s senior Alex Ducas said. “We love to fight, and we play physical. So I think it’s going to be an exciting matchup.”
“I think people sleep on us a little bit sometimes because we may not look as lengthy and quick as other teams, but those two guys [Johnson and Kyle Bowen] I mentioned are pretty, pretty tough, and so the rest of our guys have followed suit.”
ACC-BIG TEN CHALLENGE
The other second-round game pits Miami (Fla.) of the Atlantic Coast Conference against Indiana of the Big Ten at 8:40.
Those conferences have been holding an ACC-Big Ten Challenge during the regular season since 1999, but Indiana and Miami have only played once in the history of their programs, a 58-53 Hurricanes win in 2001.
That was a non-conference game and not part of the Challenge, since Miami didn’t join the ACC until 2004.
“I’m disappointed that the ACC is not given the respect it’s due,” Miami head coach Jim Larranaga said of the overall perception of the mighty conference. “I think we’ve got a great league. We had the preseason No. 1 team in the country in North Carolina.
“They did not have the year that people expected, but they’re still pretty darn good, and so is Duke, so is Virginia.
“This has nothing to do with the game tomorrow [Sunday], but if you go back to November, early December, the ACC won the ACC-Big Ten Challenge 8-6. Hopefully we’ll play well tomorrow and represent the ACC very well.”
For the record, No. 4-seeded Virginia lost to No. 13 Furman on Thursday. The Big Ten answered on Friday, when No. 1 seed Purdue lost to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson.
Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
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