Pierre Jackson, the starting point guard on Baylor’s 2012 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight team, certainly has lived up to expectations after arriving in Waco, Texas, as national junior college player of the year.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Las Vegas native, who led College of Southern Idaho to a national title his sophomore year, earned second-team All-Big 12 and honorable mention All-America acclaim last season. He was voted Big 12 preseason player of the year prior to the start of this, his senior campaign.
“I would have voted for him for preseason player of the year. He’s leading the league in scoring by a large margin. He’s first or second in assists,” KU coach Bill Self said of Jackson, who has averaged a Big 12-leading 19.2 points and 6.3 assists per contest. KU’s Ben McLemore is second in the league in scoring (16.4), while Jackson is in a dead heat with Texas’ Javan Felix in assists (6.27 for Felix to 6.31 for Jackson).
“He’s fast, and he’s got bounce, but he’s not their only weapon,” Self added in previewing a Baylor team that takes an 11-4 record and 3-0 league mark into today’s 8 p.m. Big Monday showdown at KU (14-1, 2-0).
Baylor also has double-digit scorers in 7-foot-1 freshman Isaiah Austin (14.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and 6-9 junior Cory Jefferson (14.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg), as well as long-range bomber Brady Heslip (30 of 84 threes for 35 percent).
Jackson, however, is the player who runs the show.
“I think when Baylor is playing its best, Pierre probably controls the game. He doesn’t have to score to play well, but usually when they do play well, he scores,” Self said.
KU point guard Elijah Johnson and Jackson both call Las Vegas home.
“Same city but different sides of town,” said Johnson, who attended Cheyenne High; Jackson attended Desert Pines. “We’re cool. That’s my boy. We’re cool people.
“I always said he was good. People kind of underestimated him,” noted Johnson, who averages 9.8 points and 5.5 assists for the Jayhawks. “It didn’t surprise me where he got to, at all.”
Asked about today’s match-up against Jackson, Johnson said: “It’s nothing but a good thing for the city (of Vegas).”
Jackson is 1-2 versus KU. The Bears fell to KU, 92-74, in Allen Fieldhouse and 68-54 in Ferrell Center a year ago before prevailing, 82-71, in the Big 12 tournament semifinals in Sprint Center.
“We know what kind of environment we’re going into, and I think we’ll be ready for it. I remember how loud it was,” Jackson said of last year’s game in which KU put an end to Baylor’s 17-0 run to start the season.
“They have a great fan base, and if you let them get any momentum at all, the crowd will let you know about it. We have a little saying that we say, ‘It’s just us.’ There will be really no fans up there for us. We’ll be ready, though,” Jackson added.
BU coach Scott Drew vividly recalls last year’s game in Lawrence.
“We were 17-0, and there was a lot of hype going into the game. I think it will help the guys that were there last year. Unfortunately, we led to it getting loud by missing easy buckets and turning the ball over. So we have to do our job to keep it quiet,” Drew said.
The victory in the Big 12 tournament might provide the Bears some confidence heading into tonight’s game. KU is 10-2 versus the Bears during the Self era.
“I think coach (Drew, 2-10 vs. KU) will show what we did against them last year and try to use that against them this time,” said Jackson, who had 11 points and 11 assists in the game in Allen, 16 points and four assists in Waco and 13 points and seven assists in Sprint Center.
Drew is confident in his team in large part because of floor leader Jackson.
“Pierre can score in bunches, and when you get somebody who can score in bunches, you’re always a few seconds from a great run. That’s what you love about Pierre because in a minute he can do three or four spectacular things,” Drew said of Jackson, who has scored in double figures in 23 straight games, averaging 18.6 points and 6.3 assists per game during the streak. He has made a three-pointer in 27 consecutive games, and with one vs. KU, he would tie the third-longest streak in program history.
BU’s coach is well aware the Jayhawks have a lot of players to counter the Baylor attack.
“It’s rare to have so much experience in college basketball these days,” Drew said of KU’s senior-laden starting lineup.
KU senior Jeff Withey realizes it’ll take another great effort to stop the Bears, picked to finish second to KU in the preseason Big 12 coaches poll.
“They are a great team. They have been the last few years. It’s going to be a fun game. It’s Big Monday,” Withey said.
He was asked if the game could be billed as a Withey-Jackson showcase since the two are battling for Big 12 Player of the Year honors.
“Uh, no,” Withey said. “He doesn’t play my position, so I can’t guard him. He can’t guard me. It’s all about our team. As long as we keep winning, I’m happy. He’s a great player. He’s so fast. He’s really a good point guard, but we have a really good point guard, too. I think Elijah will play great on Monday. He has a big challenge. He’s going to be able to show his talent off and make it be known he’s a real good point guard, too.”
Huge game: Self on the significance of the game, considering BU is 3-0 and KU 2-0 in the league: “It’s a big game. Anytime you play at home, you need to try to hold serve. This is a big game, without question. It’s one our guys will look forward to playing. Baylor has had great success the past few years, and we’ve had some great games against them. This is a big game.”
Drew returns: Drew returned to the bench for Saturday’s victory over TCU. He had served a two-game suspension to open league play as part of self-imposed sanctions for NCAA rules violations announced last April. Drew was cited for rules violations involving excessive phone calls to prospects. Assistant Jerome Tang directed the Bears to victories over Texas and Texas Tech.
Self on BU’s Austin: “He is a 4-man (with) almost 3-man skills. He can shoot the ball (52 percent). He’s tall. He can shoot, block shots (15), post. He is a force. From the outside looking in, he’s getting more confident as the season goes on.”
Jefferson quite the dunker: Self was asked if BU’s Jefferson is underrated: “Yes. He’s shooting 70 percent from the field (actually 63 percent). He dunks everything. He is Blake Griffin of the Big 12. He does kind of replace Quincy Acy in that regard dunking everything. He’s good player.”
Cory Jefferson on being a big factor this season after being a role player in the past: “It’s a lot of fun. I’ve been waiting all that time, sitting out there watching everybody who was playing. Now I’m out there on the court. We’ll try to get a win up there,” he added. “We know it will be tough, but we’ll have a game plan and stick to it. I know it’s a tough place. They have one of the best centers in the Big 12, so I think it will be a good match-up”
Stats, facts: KU leads the all-time series, 18-3. BU is 0-9 in Allen . ... The closest game between the teams in 10 meetings in Lawrence was BU’s 81-75 loss to KU on Jan. 20, 2010. Baylor lost by at least 10 points in every other road game against Kansas. ... Baylor has played nine times at Allen Fieldhouse (0-9), and the Bears have lost by an average of 17.0 points in those games. ... Baylor held TCU to 40 points on Saturday, the fewest the Bears have allowed in a Big 12 game. ... Baylor is 18-24 in Big 12 road games over the last six seasons after going 8-80 in road games over the league’s first 11 years. ... Through 15 games, Baylor is averaging 37.7 points in the paint per game and holding opponents to 28.3 PIP. Baylor’s leaders are Jefferson (10.0 PIP/game), Austin (9.1 PIP/game) and Jackson (5.7 PIP/game). ... Heslip has made a three in 48 of 52 games in his career. He has 34 games with two-plus threes and 22 with three-plus threes.