The 2015 NCAA tournament's youngest team is all grown up, as the No. 14 University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers shocked the No. 3 Iowa State Cyclones 60-59 Thursday in the South Region from Louisville, Kentucky.
Call it the onset of madness, the first bracket-buster of the season. A young UAB roster—including six true freshmen—looked anything but rattled and did the majority of its damage on the low block. The Blazers won the battle on the glass, 52-37, as frosh William Lee led the way with 12 boards.
USA Today's Nicole Auerbach had UAB forward William Lee's reaction to the victory:
Iowa State's Monte Morris had a different reaction to the result:
Junior guard Robert Brown put the Blazers on his shoulders, scoring a team-high 21 points on 7-of-19 shooting. AL.com's Kevin Scarbinsky noted in the first half that Brown's performance was a continuance of his recent form:
The Blazers struggled with the long ball, going 3-of-18 from deep, but their stingy defense and extra effort on the glass compensated.
As strange as it sounds, Iowa State's Georges Niang was as off as the rest of the Cyclones, as Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde illustrated in the second half:
Niang finished with 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting as the Cyclones shot 36.9 percent from the field.
Iowa State opened the game on a 12-2 run, but UAB seemed to shake off the big-game jitters in a hurry and wound up winning the rebounding battle in the first half, 23-15. On the offensive glass, the advantage read 9-1, helping the Blazers to put up nine more shots than the Cyclones.
As things continued in the opening frame, the Cyclones began to look like the younger team, turning the ball over nine times and going to the break at a 31-28 disadvantage.
Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead offered perspective with a dash of advice for good measure:
Part of the issue? ISU's Niang and Dustin Hogue both picked up a pair of personal fouls and hit the pine, struggling with the size of Tosin Mehinti and Lee down low.
Of course, anyone who followed Big 12 basketball this year knew the drill—Iowa State was notorious for falling behind at the break before a second-half eruption. Grantland's Mark Titus cautioned the young Blazers about the Cyclones' comeback credentials:
Except the young Blazers did.
UAB hit on a dry spell to open the second half that lasted north of six minutes, but as Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis pointed out, the Blazers hung in the game:
At one point, UAB had as many offensive rebounds as Iowa State had field goals (15). Making matters worse, both Niang and Hogue picked up their third personal fouls, as did guard Naz Long.
The Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke offered his perspective on the effort levels of both teams with five minutes left:
UAB stood tall and continued to exchange leads with Iowa State, forcing a shot-clock violation with less than a minute left in regulation while down 55-53.
Both teams resembled heavyweights exchanging blows from there, with Brown hitting a three, the Cyclones responding and the Blazers taking back the lead.
Then the more experienced team choked. Niang had a shot blocked, and the UAB defense held strong in the waning moments.
ESPN Stats & Info highlighted how most of the nation gave the Blazers very little chance of pulling off the upset before tipoff:
Other than ruining brackets everywhere, CBSSports.com's Joel Corry pointed out what the coaching job by UAB's Jerod Haase means for his future:
Haase spoke about his team's experience, or lack thereof, before the game, per Steve Irvine of UABSports.com:
It's fun to talk about. But our guys have as much experience now, especially experience in close games, experience in big games, experience against name opponents, that a lot of seniors around the country do not have. I really don't feel like we're going in inexperienced. We are younger than many teams but I don't think inexperienced.
For Iowa State, the hopes and dreams of a deep run in the Big Dance come to a jarring halt.
The Blazers next encounter the winner of Friday's showdown between No. 6 SMU and No. 11 UCLA. Both teams lean on star guards for production, so UAB will need another strong showing from Brown and a second gargantuan effort on the glass to advance.
At the very least, Thursday proved UAB basketball has a bright future. So much for the Blazers arriving on the scene a year too early.
Stats and info are courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.