LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The UAB Blazers may not have a football program anymore.
They did post 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 No. 14 seed UAB, and the Blazers knocked off No. 3 seed Iowa State 60-59 on Thursday in their opening game in the NCAA tournament.
The Blazers (20-15) came in with the third-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 shuttered its football program 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.
“We were celebrating because that was a really big win for us with us being the underdogs,” UAB guard Tyler Madison said.
Haase estimated maybe four or five of the Blazers didn’t even realize a month ago that the Conference USA tournament champion earned an automatic berth, while another had never watched a selection show before Sunday.
“You’re a product of your thoughts,” Haase said. “There’s been more talk right now about 14 seed or upsets than we’ve said the entire year. Our thoughts have been, when we play well, we think we can compete with anybody, and those thoughts have been expressed to our team, and our team has made the choice to believe in that. I think that’s what you saw today.”
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 scrappy Blazers on the boards in a second half where the Cyclones couldn’t hold onto a 55-51 lead with 3:13 left.
For Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, it’s as tough a loss as he’s had. His Cyclones came in having won five straight, rallying from double-digit deficits in each on their way to the Big 12 tournament title.
“I’m not going to make any excuses,” Hoiberg said. “You’ve got to come out and play 40 minutes.”