Gonzaga beat Connecticut 85-82 in the regular season in Boston, and the Bulldogs don’t have a player like De’Jon Jackson.

The University of San Diego does have Jackson in its lineup, so why couldn’t Gonzaga South beat Connecticut? Gonzaga South is what UConn coach Jim Calhoun called USD because first-year Toreros coach Bill Grier was a Gonzaga assistant for 16 years.

De’Jon Jackson, Photo: Ernie Anderson

Turns out the 13th-seeded Toreros could beat No. 4-seed UConn of the Big East Conference, pulling off a 70-69 upset in overtime Friday in a first-round NCAA Tournament West Regional game played, oddly enough, in Tampa, Fla.

With USD’s two leading scorers on the bench with five fouls — juniors Gyno Pomare and Branadon Johnson — Jackson hit an 18-foot jumper with 1.2 seconds left to give the Toreros the school’s first NCAA Tournament win in four tries.

In fact, it’s also the first tournament win for San Diego college basketball — San Diego State is also winless in NCAA games.

I’ve been telling you throughout the year on this site that the perception that San Diego can’t be a basketball team is wrong and misinformed. The resources were never put into the sport at USD or SDSU until now.

USD was led by 22 points from Pomare and 18 from Johnson, but they needed Jackson in the end as they have in other close games. The versatile sophomore guard is one of those guys that always turns up in the right place at the right time.

Grier calls him “the glue that holds the team together.”

Before Jackson hit the game-winner, he stripped UConn of the ball when the Huskies were trying to answer with a basket in the final moments. Then he stole the inbound pass with 1.2 second to play to end UConn’s desperation hopes.

If the Toreros needed him to replace Johnson for 40 minutes, they would have lost. But put the ball in Jackson’s hands in crucial situations, and it’s in as good hands as if Johnson were pulling the trigger.

“We’re going to the second round,” Johnson said after the game. “I’m proud of my teammates. They showed great poise. We’ve got young guys playing big. I think we’re on a roll. We’re playing good defense. We got a way from what we were doing for awhile, but we stayed focused and we did it.”

Jackson only scored four points, but four was all the Toreros needed from him on this night. If they needed five, he probably would have hit a 3-pointer instead of a 2-point field goal.


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