LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The first major upset of the NCAA tournament arrived early.
No. 14 seed UAB shocked No. 3 seed Iowa State 60-59 in the first game of the day at KFC Yum! Center. Robert Brown led all scorers with 21 points, including a huge 3-pointer with 50.6 seconds left to give his team the lead.
Here are five observations of the upset:
Blazin’ intensity: UAB was just 16-15 in the regular season before making its run through the Conference USA tournament for an automatic bid. The Blazers fell 12-2 early but from there simply outplayed and outhustled the heavily favored Cyclones.
UAB outrebounded Iowa State 52-37 (including 19 offensive rebounds) and made all the clutch plays down the stretch. William Lee made a 15-foot jumper with 24 seconds left and sank two free throws with 12 seconds remaining to clinch it.
Cyclones not right: Something seemed off most of the game for coach Fred Hoiberg’s crew. After turning the ball over only 6.3 times per game in the Big 12 tournament, Iowa State was sloppy with the ball and had nine turnovers at halftime. Sharpshooter Naz Long missed seven of his first eight shots. The team got pounded on the boards and had several shots rim out. They were 6-of-23 on 3-pointers, and half of those makes came from reserve Matt Thomas. The Cyclones are used to playing from behind -- having trailed by at least 10 points in each of their previous five games, all wins -- but this time they let a late four-point lead slip away.
No happy return: It was a rough trip back to the NCAA tournament for Georges Niang. Iowa State’s star, who broke his foot in last year’s tournament, scored seven points early but picked up his second foul midway through the first half and sat until intermission. He struggled to get much going in the second half, finishing just 4-of-15 from the floor. He got his shot blocked with 17 seconds left when Lee and Tosin Mehinti doubled-teamed him on the baseline, and Niang then committed a foul.
Not done yet: UAB has busted a lot of brackets already, but it might not be done. This team is playing with no fear and nothing to lose, and it has a red-hot hand in Brown. The junior guard was the Conference USA tournament MVP. UAB also has a pair of big guys in Mehinti and Lee, who combined for 18 rebounds. The winner of the SMU-UCLA game had better be wary.
Something to talk about: The upset win was a particular point of pride for the UAB community in the wake of the school’s controversial decision this past fall to drop football. A couple of fans in the small but boisterous Blazers cheering section held signs that read “Fire Ray Watts,” in reference to the school’s president (who was in attendance). The UAB basketball team now carries the weight of representing the university on the national sports stage. “It was important for us just to give the city something to cheer for,” Brown said Wednesday. “They were down about football, and it’s something we kind of talked about.”