The Alabama Birmingham Blazers may not have a football program anymore. They did have the first big upset of the NCAA tournament and hope they can give their university something to rally around.
William Lee scored the last four points for 14th-seeded UAB, and the Blazers knocked off third-seeded Iowa State, 60-59, on Thursday in Louisville, Ky., in their opening game in the South Regional. It's the third straight year a 14 seed has upset a No. 3 seed, and Georgia State followed up by joining the list within an hour with a 57-56 win over Baylor.
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 and ran over to celebrate in front of the fans of a school that shut its football program down in December.
"For us, it was just huge," UAB junior Robert Brown said. "We come here, not just to play games, but to actually make some noise and to win some games. To be able to do that and win for Birmingham, win for Coach [Jerod] Haase, it's a great feeling." And it set off a wild celebration in the Blazers' locker room.
The ninth-ranked Cyclones (25-9) went 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 because of injury. But they just couldn't match the scrappy Blazers on the boards in a second half in which the Cyclones couldn't hold on to a 55-51 lead with 3 minutes, 13 seconds left.
UCLA 60, Southern Methodist 59 - Bryce Alford made four three-pointers in the final 3:40, his last on a rare goaltending call with 13 seconds remaining, to push the 11th-seeded Bruins to an upset of the sixth-seeded Mustangs in Louisville, Ky.
Alford's points came on nine long-range shots, but his last attempt was the most debated as his shot from the left side was touched by SMU's Yanick Moreira before it hit the rim. Officials awarded Alford, the son of coach Steve Alford, the basket, to the disbelief of SMU players and coach Larry Brown.
The Mustangs (27-7) had two shots to win in the final seconds, but Nic Moore missed a three-pointer and then a two-point attempt that sent the Bruins (21-13) into a wild celebration.
UCLA, the team many felt didn't even belong in the field of 68, advanced to Saturday's round of 32 against No. 14 UAB.
Utah 57, Stephen F. Austin 50 - Jakob Poeltl had 18 points and eight rebounds, and the fifth-seeded Utes opened their first NCAA tournament appearance in five years by holding off the Lumberjacks in Portland, Ore.
Utah's stout defense thwarted the usually high-scoring Lumberjacks, who were held well under their season average of 79.5 points. Ty Charles led No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin (29-5) with 14 points.
Jordan Loveridge added 12 points for Utah (25-8), which led by as many as 12 points in the second half.
Duke vs. Robert Morris.
Quinn Cook has twice felt the sting of a shocking early NCAA tournament loss along with the rush of making one deep push in March. Now Duke's senior leader is down to his final chance to help the Blue Devils reach a Final Four.
That pursuit starts Friday, when the top-seeded Blue Devils (29-4) open play in the South Regional with a home-state game against 16th-seeded Robert Morris (20-14) in Charlotte, N.C.
"Have to play with a sense of urgency each game," Cook said Thursday. "Everybody's playing for their life right now. Nobody wants the season to end. Teams are playing their best basketball, teams are playing for something."
Playing on a team led largely by freshman star big man Jahlil Okafor, Cook has been the emotional leader of a team with his stepped-up offensive play - his 15.7-point average is four points better than either of his previous two seasons - and his on-ball defense.
St. John's vs. San Diego State. St. John's coach Steve Lavin said that while center Chris Obekpa's suspension is "less than ideal," he still believes the Red Storm has what it takes to overcome the shot blocker's absence in the NCAA tournament.
"We have had a number of stretches where we have had to play without Chris and been successful," Lavin said Thursday at news conference.
The Red Storm, the ninth seed in the South region, will face No. 8 seed San Diego State on Friday in Charlotte, N.C.