Wednesday, January 15, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Jackson making mark at Arkansas

Leader sports editor

FAYETTEVILLE – Not often does a freshman basketball player arrive on campus at a major Division I university and instantly become an impact player. But that’s what 2013 Jacksonville High School graduate Jessica Jackson has done at the University of Arkansas.

Jackson has been the Razorback Women’s leading scorer since the first game, averaging 15.8 points per game, and is gaining a reputation as not only Arkansas’ best player, but also one of the best in the conference.

Jackson and Arkansas suffered a loss at home on Sunday to Mississippi State. The Lady Bulldogs were the first team this year to game plan specifically to shut down Jackson, and they were largely successful. Jackson suffered through her lowest point production of the season with only four points, but the comments of Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer speaks volumes about Jackson’s growing reputation.

“I thought tonight they (Schaefer’s front-court players) just did an unbelievable job holding one of the great players in our league – Jessica Jackson,” said Schaefer. “She is going to be a monster. She’s a monster already.”

Jackson wasn’t happy with Sunday’s outcome or with her performance, but has been thoroughly enjoying playing DI basketball, and being an impact player.

“I really didn’t expect to come in and be a key player right away,” Jackson said. “Usually the freshmen have to learn their role and work their way into it. So I’m glad the coaches and players all have enough confidence in me to put me in that situation.”

Mississippi State keyed intently on Jackson defensively, many times double-teaming the 6-foot-3 freshman with their 6-5 junior Martha Arwol and 6-2 freshman Breanna Richardson. Offensively, the Lady Bulldog game plan was to attack the basket, the region Jackson patrols. That got Jackson into early foul trouble, and she became a bit too passive defensively in the first half.

Arkansas coach Tom Collen gave the opponent much credit for executing their game plan, but believes Jackson can and will do better in that situation in the future.

“I think Jessica shut herself down a little bit,” Collen said. “. One, she got into foul trouble and she’s not used to sitting over there in foul trouble a whole lot. I thought they were really physical with her and she didn’t deal with that very well. And I think she knows that about herself. I think she knows she has to be more physical. It’s there at times and other times it’s not.

“And she gets a little bit down on herself. I know she’s a competitor. I know she’s going to keep working hard. She’s proven time and time again that she’s going to be a good basketball player. But hey, they did a good job on her.”

Jackson admitted to being at somewhat of a loss on Sunday on what to do, but believes it’s going to make her better.

“I was getting a little down on myself because they were coming in there and scoring on me and stuff,” Jackson said. “It just wasn’t a very good game. But I think I learned from it. You just have to keep playing hard no matter what.”

Jackson says the experience of playing college ball and being away from home has been different, but the transition smooth. Teammates, like former high-school rival Melissa Wolff of Cabot, have helped make the transition an easy one.

“Me and Mo are cool,” Jackson said of Wolff. “When we go home for breaks and stuff I ride home with her. But really everybody, the players, the coaches, the staff, everybody really comes in and tries to help you out. So it’s been great.”

The Razorback Women are now 15-3 overall and 1-3 in the SEC. Their next game is at Georgia on Thursday. Their next home game is at 2 p.m. Sunday against Ole Miss.