The performances of Wade and Jackson, with the aid of a capable supporting cast, propelled the Golden Eagles (27-5) into the Final Four for the first time since 1977, when legendary coach Al McGuire won the school's only national championship. Marquette will play Kansas in Saturday's semifinals.
The Wildcats (32-4), who entered yesterday's contest with a 26-game winning streak and were favored to move on to New Orleans, played with senior guard Keith Bogans, their on-court emotional leader, at less than 100 percent because of a high left-ankle sprain.
But a healthy Bogans might not have made a big difference. Kentucky had no answers for Wade, Jackson, or the Marquette defense. The Wildcats shot less than 26 percent from the field in the first half, trailed by 21 late in the half, and never were able to get back into the game.
"It was not their day; it was our day," said Tom Crean, the energetic Marquette coach, who last made it to the Final Four in 1999 as a Michigan State assistant. "To do what they have done the last three months without a loss is incredible. Maybe that's the reason we played so well. We knew we had to be at the top of our game."
The Golden Eagles, No. 3 seeds who were knocked out in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament, were not intimidated by the Wildcats' record or tradition. That was particularly true in the middle, where the 6-foot-10, 260-pound Jackson had his way with the 6-9, 235-pound Estill.
Quicker and stronger in getting position, Jackson shot 10 of 16 from the field. On defense, he kept Estill away from the hoop, limiting him to eight shots and 10 points. Two nights earlier, Estill had scored a career-high 28 against Wisconsin.
Jackson had plenty of motivation. On Friday, Estill said he did not remember Jackson playing at Mississippi State, Kentucky's fellow Southeastern Conference member.
"My teammates were joking about it on the bus," Jackson said. "I just took it as motivation. My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball. I played with a lot of emotion tonight, and I knew my teammates would feed off that."
With Marquette leading by 22-19, Jackson followed up a missed shot with 7 minutes, 27 seconds to play in the half to spark the Golden Eagles' decisive run. He hit two more baskets, and freshman reserve Steve Novak knocked down three three-pointers.
The Wildcats made only one of their last 10 shots in the half, and that came with 12 seconds remaining. Kentucky coach Tubby Smith watched his team's meltdown with a glazed look. He did not call a time-out until his team's last possession as Marquette rolled up basket after basket.
As expected, the Wildcats made a run after halftime, but it stopped well short of being a legitimate threat. Trailing by 59-47, Kentucky sought to trim the deficit further, but Antwain Barbour was called for an offensive foul with 10:09 remaining.
"You could feel the energy and momentum coming back," Smith said. "But Antwain made that spin move and got called for a charge. My job is to be a coach. I guess officiating is a tough job."
Wade then took over. With Marquette up, 61-47, Wade slammed home a dunk over Estill and made the subsequent free throw. The Eagles' next five scoring possessions went: Wade three-pointer, Wade baseline drive and dunk, Wade angle drive and free throw, Wade assist on Jackson's basket, Wade reverse dunk.
The final basket of that sequence made it 76-57 with just more than five minutes to play. Game, set and match.
"My mind-set was that I was going to give it my all," said Wade, who shot 11 of 16 from the field. "I told the guys at halftime that we have to leave our hearts out on the court because that's what it takes to beat a great team. Once I got going, the players did a great job of finding me."
The vast majority of the 28,383 fans cheered for Marquette, silencing the Big Blue Nation of Kentucky fans, who found themselves with very little to enjoy after Bogans was introduced as a starter.
"I let my teammates know how bad I wanted to play," said Bogans, who scored 15 points. "It hurt having to watch the second half [against Wisconsin on Thursday]. I wanted to play. We came this far together and I wanted to be there with them, no matter what."
It wasn't enough. The Wildcats, who have gotten to the regional finals eight times in the last 12 seasons, failed to reach the Final Four, which many folks in Bluegrass Country consider a birthright.
Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles cut down the nets, donned the T-shirts and hats given to the champions, and held up a mock front page declaring "Holy Mackerel," a favorite expression of the beloved McGuire, who passed away in 2001.
Holy mackerel, indeed.
Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or firstname.lastname@example.org.