LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A UAB team that could not win away from home, had not beaten a single team in the NCAA tournament field and lost 15 times this year put the first jolt of Madness into March on Thursday.
The No. 14 seed Blazers stunned No. 3 seed Iowa State, 60-59. Freshman William Lee scored four big points in the final 30 seconds, hitting a contested foul-line jumper with 23 seconds left and then sinking two free throws with 7.5 seconds remaining for the winning points.
For Iowa State, it was a ghastly end to a great season. Five days after winning the Big 12 tournament and becoming a trendy Final Four pick, the Cyclones were destroyed on the glass, 52-37, and a normally excellent shooting team connected on just 37 percent of its field goals and 26 percent of its 3-pointers. Their trademark passing game never got untracked, due in part to UAB’s defense and in part to an uncharacteristic unwillingness by some players to share the ball.
Iowa State star Georges Niang had first-half foul trouble and was flatly ineffective in the second half, taking numerous ill-advised shots and finishing 4-for-15 from the field.
The Cyclones, who had become a formidable second-half team after many slow starts, could never piece together a run to take control of the game. UAB wouldn’t permit it.
UAB (20-15) shot just 35 percent for the game, which is pretty much on par with how it has played all season. The Blazers are not a proficient offensive team – but their length and tenacity inside altered Iowa State shots and led to a complete mismatch on the backboard.
The Blazers got 21 points from leading scorer Robert Brown, but he did it the hard way. Brown, who shouldered the entire offense for long stretches of the second half, made just 7 of 19 shots and missed a lot of perimeter jump shots under duress. But his 3-pointer with 50.6 seconds left gave UAB its first lead of the final four minutes and injected some belief into the underdogs.
UAB had not won a road game since Jan. 31, and was just 3-11 outside of Birmingham. If the Conference USA tournament had not been in Birmingham, chances are good that the Blazers never would have gotten this far and got their shot at the first Cinderella moment of the tourney.
This was UAB’s first NCAA bid under rising star coach Jerod Haase, who is in his third year at the school. The former player and assistant coach under Roy Williams guided the Blazers to their first NCAA tournament since 2011 and their first victory in the Big Dance since 2005.