It was just five days ago that Iowa State capped a championship run through the Big 12 tournament with a win over Kansas. Now, the Cyclones, the No. 3 seed in the South Region, are headed home as the first victim of March Madness.
No. 14 UAB, a team that finished fifth in Conference USA in the regular season, shut down Georges Niang and used 19 offensive rebounds to propel itself to a 60-59 upset of Iowa State in Louisville on Thursday. UAB junior guard Robert Brown led all scorers with 21 points.
Early on, it appeared the Blazers wouldn’t present much of a challenge. The Cyclones opened up a 12-2 lead in the game’s first five minutes, and UAB had six missed shots and two turnovers on its first nine possessions. The Blazers rallied back, however, outscoring Iowa State 29-16 for the rest of the first half and taking a three-point lead into the locker room. The teams traded blows for most of the second half, but it looked like the Cyclones would survive after a Monte Morris layup and two Niang free throws gave them a four-point edge with three minutes left.
With just less than a minute remaining, UAB trailed 55-53 but had the ball underneath the Iowa State basket. A beautiful inbounds play resulted in an open three on the right wing from Brown, and he buried it to give the Blazers the lead. Morris answered immediately, getting a short jumper in the lane to put the Cyclones back in front. UAB wasted no time counterpunching, scoring 15 seconds later on a foul line jumper from William Lee for the 13th and final lead change of the second half.
The Blazers, as they had done all day, threw a double team at Niang when he tried to drive the baseline on the ensuing possession. Instead of passing out of it, Niang threw up a terrible shot that wasn't close. Lee grabbed the rebound and made both free throws to put UAB up 60-57 with 12 seconds remaining.
Despite the fact that UAB still had multiple fouls to give and likely could have drained the clock without even letting Iowa State get a shot off, the Cyclones had a great look at a game-tying shot. But Naz Long, a 40% marksman from deep, missed an elbow three-pointer that would have tied the score. Morris tipped in the miss but with 0.4 seconds left, it didn’t mean anything.
UAB owned the backboards, finishing with a 52-37 edge on the glass, and limited Niang to 11 points of 4-of-15 shooting.
Iowa State was a chic Final Four pick out of the South Regional. Instead, the Cyclones are headed back to Ames while UAB, which entered last week's C-USA tournament 16-15 and needed to blaze an unlikely trail just to get into the field, keeps on dancing.