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March 21, 2008
TAMPA ? De'Jon Jackson was the first player in the San Diego locker room to receive any attention from trainers. Moments after No. 13 seeded San Diego's upset of fourth-seeded Connecticut, a trainer rushed to Jackson, wrapping his knees in ice.
With a game-winning jumper with 1.2 seconds left in overtime against Connecticut, Jackson earned the speedy treatment of his tendinitis-stricken knees. And San Diego earned its first NCAA Tournament win in school history with a 70-69 shocker Friday.
UConn was seen as a trendy Sweet 16 or even Elite Eight pick as recently as two weeks ago. But San Diego, which earned a surprising automatic bid by defeating Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament final, lived up to its Torero nickname, playing like a bullfighter without fear.
The Toreros' victory ensures a meeting between Nos. 12 and 13 seeds in the second round, after Western Kentucky's upset of No. 5 Drake earlier in the day. The last 12-13 game was in 2001, when No. 12 Gonzaga beat No. 13 Indiana State in Memphis.
Like Western Kentucky before them, the Toreros got late-game heroics from an unlikely source.
Jackson took the inbounds pass from Devin Ginty before driving to the basket for the jumper just inside the 3-point line. He sealed the win by swatting away the inbounds pass from Jeff Adrien.
For his mature presence as well as his sore knees, teammates call him "Grandpa," or "D.J. Gramps" if they're feeling creative. Jackson, who turns 20 Saturday, has been battling tendinitis in his knees for about six weeks.
"He's our scrapper, our hustle man," said Pomare, who finished with 22 points and was 10-of-12 from the field. "He doesn't get as much recognition as he should."
First-year coach Bill Grier called Jackson his glue guy for his leadership and willingness to take the young Toreros under his wing. It took a little prodding, but Grier, who came to San Diego off Mark Few's staff at Gonzaga, said Jackson finally began to take a more vocal leadership role as the season went on.
"He's the heart and soul of this team," Grier said. "He's like that guy who works in the mill. He comes in and punches the time card and works his tail off. Everyday that's the way he approaches it."
Pomare was the hero early. He had 14 points and three steals in the first half as San Diego built a 34-29 halftime lead. Despite Connecticut's size advantage, San Diego held its own, matching Connecticut in rebounds at 16 and picking up 11 second-chance points to the Huskies' 3.
Despite the presence of Thabeet, who finished with four blocks, San Diego shot 47.4 percent from the floor.
From coach Jim Calhoun's point of view, the game may have been lost in the opening minutes as San Diego grabbed an early mental advantage. When Connecticut guard A.J. Price went down with a knee injury after less than 10 minutes had been played, the Huskies struggled. The score was tied at 16 at that point, and San Diego outscored Connecticut 18-13 for the remainder of the half.
"The thing I put on the board (before the game) was, 'Don't let them think and don't let them get a sniff that we're two equal teams,' " said Calhoun, who lost in the first round for the first time since he was at coach at Northeastern in 1986. "We allowed (San Diego) to believe that it wasn't going to be what everybody said it was going to be."
Instead, a guard with balky knees nicknamed "Gramps" gave San Diego a piece of school history and a shot at the Sweet 16 by knocking off one of the giants of college basketball.
"Out team is real small," Jackson said. "We've got big heart, and every time we come on the floor we show it."
Connecticut's tournament stay may have ended when All-Big East guard A.J. Price left the floor.
Price, the Huskies' leading scorer, injured his knee while driving to the basket at the 10:21 mark of the first half. Price was expected to get an MRI on Friday night, but Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun feared it might be an ACL injury.
"I made a tough move to the basket, and as I was pushing off to go up I just felt everything go wrong in my knee," said Price, who did not score. "I took the pressure off of it as fast as I could. I was thinking about giving it a go ? at one point I felt like I could ? but when I did some warmup stuff in the locker room, I just didn't think I could go."
Forward Jeff Adrien said Price's absence had a major effect.
"It was an adjustment right there," Adrien said. "That was the first time we played without him. It was an adjustment period."
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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