The first big upset of the NCAA Tournament goes to the scrappy UAB Blazers.
William Lee scored the last four points for 14th-seeded UAB, and the Blazers upset third-seeded Iowa State 60-59 on Thursday in their opening game in the NCAA tournament.
The Blazers (20-15) came in with the youngest team in the NCAA tournament and with nobody having played in this tournament before. They wound up winning the program’s first NCAA game since 2005.
The ninth-ranked Cyclones (25-9) came into the South Regional looking for a much longer run than a year ago when they reached the Sweet 16 without top scorer Georges Niang due to injury. But they just couldn’t match the Blazers on the boards in a second half where the Cyclones couldn’t hold onto a 55-51 lead with 3:13 left.
The Blazers, who outscored Iowa State, 9-4, down the stretch, will play either SMU or UCLA on Saturday.
Iowa State, which lost its opener as a No. 2 seed in 2001, last led at 57-56 on a basket by Monte Morris. But Lee hit a jumper with 24 seconds left putting UAB ahead to stay. Niang had a jumper blocked by Tosin Mehinti, and Lee got the rebound. Lee hit two free throws with 12.1 seconds left.
Naz Long missed a three-pointer that Morris tipped in with 0.4 seconds left, and the Cyclones couldn’t get the ball back before the Blazers started celebrating their gutty win.
Robert Brown led UAB with 21 points, Lee finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Tyler Madison also had 11 rebounds as the Blazers dominated the boards, 52-37, including 19 on the offensive glass.
Morris finished with 15 points for the Cyclones, who were making a school-record fourth straight tournament appearance only to lose their opener for the first time since 2001. Niang and reserve Matt Thomas both added 11 points, and Jameel McKay had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Iowa State looked ready to finally put away an opponent as the Cyclones opened the game with a 12-2 lead. The Blazers settled down quickly enough and used a 14-4 run to turn it into a game, taking advantage of repeated turnovers by the Cyclones.
The Blazers took a 31-28 halftime lead but didn’t score until Madison hit a jumper with 14:20 left — a scoring drought that spanned 6:52 from their last basket of the first half.
Not that it hurt as the teams wound up swapping the lead a total of 17 times with eight ties.