Harris makes layup with 12.3 seconds left to end Vanderbilt's season

CINCINNATI -- No watching and wincing this year. Amber Harris is taking Xavier places in the NCAA tournament where it hasn't gone in a long time.

With each clutch basket, she reminded them of what they missed in last year's madness.

The 6-foot-5 forward with power moves and a soft touch extended the Musketeers' season Tuesday night with two minutes of the brilliance. Harris made the go-ahead layup with 12.3 seconds left, and third-seeded Xavier held on for a 63-62 win over Vanderbilt in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Down by 10 midway through the second half, the Musketeers (29-3) let the Atlantic 10's player of the year take over.

"Amber does have a knack for making a shot when we've got to have it and helping us down the stretch to get a win," coach Kevin McGuff said. "She certainly did tonight."

The Musketeers will take a 20-game winning streak into its Sacramento Regional semifinal against Gonzaga on Saturday, their season extended by an improbable comeback on their home court. The Musketeers hadn't been to the round of 16 since former coach Melanie Balcomb led them to the Elite Eight in 2001, before moving on to Vanderbilt.

Back in the building, Balcomb almost led the Commodores (23-11) to a big upset.

Instead, their last two shots rattled off the rim.

"I just turned and ran the other way," said Harris, who began hugging players at midcourt.

Vanderbilt led most of the game behind the steadying play of All-SEC point guard Jence Rhoads, who had 20 points and seven assists. Harris missed last year's tournament while recovering from knee surgery, and wouldn't let this season come up short again after three straight early NCAA flameouts.

Harris scored Xavier's six points in the final 1:22, all on point-blank shots off moves to the basket. After her layup put the Musketeers ahead, Vanderbilt had two chances to win it.

Lauren Lueders missed from the top of the key, and the long rebound went to Rhoads at the left of the basket. She put up a soft shot that hit both sides of the rim before slipping off as the buzzer sounded, sending Xavier players into a tearful huddle at midcourt.

"I knew I had to get it up quick because I only had few seconds, if that," said Rhoads, who was 8 of 18 from the field. "It felt good when I released it, but I guess I just shot it too quick."

Even the Musketeers seemed stunned that they'd pulled it off.

"There was a sigh of relief," center Ta'Shia Phillips said. "It really hasn't hit me yet."

Credit Xavier's dynamic front-line duo for pulling it off.

The 6-foot-6 Phillips had 15 points and 17 rebounds, getting the best of the scrums under the basket. Harris finished with a game-high 21 points, going 10 of 18 from the field.

After her shot fell off the rim, Rhoads fell to her knees on the floor, soaking in how close the Commodores had come to a third straight berth in the round of 16.

"That was a tough way to lose," Balcomb said. "That was one of those games you hate to see either team lose."

Xavier looked to be headed for a stinging loss on its home court because it couldn't make a 3-pointer, leaving the Musketeers a two-dimensional offensive team with Harris and Phillips. Xavier missed 17 of it first 18 shots from behind the arc, with Katie Rutan -- who set the school's freshman record for 3s this season -- missing on her first seven tries.

McGuff left the struggling freshman in the game down the stretch, and she regrouped and knocked down three in a row, sparking the comeback. Rutan's final 3 cut Vanderbilt's lead to 60-57 with 2:01 to go.

"It's hard," McGuff said. "You're talking about a freshman with a chance to help her team make the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. But she's a unique player with a unique mindset. That's why I left her in there."

Harris took it from there.