Saturday March 22nd, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. -- A St. Pete Times Forum employee barked into his walkie-talkie late Friday afternoon.

"Is San Diego's band in the compound?" he asked. Chris Morales, the Toreros' director of marketing, could only chuckle. "Funny thing about that," Morales said.

San Diego has a band, but it traveled to Palo Alto, Calif., with the Toreros' women's team. Friday, the band that played No. 13 seed San Diego to a 70-69 overtime win against fourth-seeded Connecticut belonged to Western Kentucky. After the Hilltoppers musicians finished celebrating their team's upset of Drake, they slipped on light blue USD T-shirts and chanted "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole" with the 30 or so San Diego students who Morales allowed on the team charter plane for the low, low price of $200 each.

"Maybe it was upset karma from the opening game," Morales said of the Toppers-turned-Toreros.

Maybe it was. San Diego players stood in a hallway Friday afternoon watching Western Kentucky play Drake on a small television monitor. As he watched the Hilltoppers' Ty Rogers sink an overtime buzzer-beater to stun the Bulldogs, San Diego guard De'Jon Jackson's imagination ran wild.

"I was like 'Wow,'" Jackson said. "If I ever do that, I don't know what I'd do."

Here's the answer. He'll tell his teammates to turn around and stop celebrating. Then, after a timeout, he'll steal a desperation pass and seal the upset.

Tampa went two-for-two in Shining Moments when Jackson floated a jumper over Connecticut forward Stanley Robinson with 1.2 seconds remaining to stun the Huskies. The shot sent San Diego to the second round of the tourney for the first time in four tries.

UConn lost leading scorer A.J. Price to a knee injury with 9:39 remaining in the first half. Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said the team's medical staff is "looking into an ACL." Without Price, UConn fell behind, allowing San Diego to stretch its lead to 11 early in the second half. The Huskies fought back, though, and sophomore guard Jerome Dyson made a pair of free throws with 12 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime.

"Quite frankly, I'm a little bit mystified that we waited until it was 10 minutes to go to say, 'OK, now we're going to beat you,'" Calhoun said.

In overtime, Dyson made another pair of free throws with nine seconds remaining to give the Huskies a 69-68 lead. San Diego called timeout with 5.2 seconds remaining, and coach Bill Grier called a play for Jackson. "I wanted it in De'Jon's hands," Grier said. Later, in the locker room, Jackson -- who hours earlier wished he could make a buzzer-beater -- tried to wrap his head around his own miracle shot.

"It's more than a dream come true," he said.

Outside, a group of USD students who took up Morales on his discount travel offer stayed in the stands to celebrate as long as possible could before ushers shooed them to make way for the second session crowd. Justin Sacks talked about how he and his friends traipsed all over Tampa's Westshore area Friday morning looking for blue face paint. They struck out at every store. Just before they entered the arena, they found a tube. They considered that tube an omen.

Before long, every face in the tiny student section bore blue paint. Sacks also used the paint and a piece of cardboard to create a sign he knew CBS cameras wouldn't miss. Can't Beat San Diego. Before they headed out to start the party, Sacks and his friends pondered the band dilemma. Since the Toreros will face the Hilltoppers in Sunday's second round, San Diego is without tubas, trumpets and drums.

"Put that on the Web site," 2006 San Diego grad Brad Fredericks said. "We need a band. Maybe Drake's band is still around."

Alas, the Bulldogs' band had left the building. But Morales has no intention of letting the Toreros play Sunday without musical accompaniment. He chatted up the folks at Siena in the hopes that if the 13th-seeded Saints upset Vanderbilt later Friday, they would play in a show of mid-major solidarity. A moment before Morales left to organize the buses that would take the Toreros back to their hotel, he turned to the Siena cheerleaders, who were stretching in preparation for the Vandy game.

"Good luck," he said. "Upset karma, baby."

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