UAB declaws top 'cats

Alabama-Birmingham sends No. 1 seed to its old Kentucky home, 76-75

Three-point ace Fitch misses

9th seeds make Sweet 16

`David struck a mighty blow' against Goliath

Ncaa Tournament

Ncaa Regional St. Louis

March 22, 2004|By Avani Patel | Avani Patel,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The ball carried hope in flight, and heartbreak upon arrival. Gerald Fitch got the perfect look, the perfect elevation and the perfect release. But with time running out and Kentucky's season running down, he just didn't get the perfect trajectory.

So when the backboard tips and taps were finally done, the Wildcats, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, exited the stage, having fallen victim to No. 9 seed Alabama-Birmingham, 76-75, yesterday at Nationwide Arena.

The Blazers, surprising everyone but themselves with the Sweet 16 berth, will be the lone standard-bearers for Conference USA, which sent six teams to the tournament. UAB (22-9) will play No. 4 seed Kansas on Friday in St. Louis.

Kelenna Azubuike had put the Wildcats up 75-74 with 29 seconds to play when he took a third-chance rebound and slammed the ball down.

But the Blazers were not shaken. With 12 seconds left, senior guard Mo Finley took the pass from Carldell Johnson, pump-faked Kentucky's Chuck Hayes and swished what would be the game-winner from 15 feet out.

"We knew coming into the game it was like David versus Goliath," Blazers coach Mike Anderson said. "Tell you what, David struck a mighty blow today."

More importantly, though, they absorbed repeated blows from the Wildcats without breaking. Kentucky, 7-0 until yesterday in games decided by five points or fewer this season, used the final 12 seconds to get the ball downcourt into the hands of a wide-open Fitch on the right wing.

The most prolific three-point shooter on the squad, Fitch already had connected on 79 from beyond the arc this season. But this attempt hit just right of the basket.

Hayes missed the ensuing tip-in, and as the buzzer sounded and the Blazers erupted in celebration, Fitch stood on the sideline, fists clenched in disbelief, his season and his college career over.

"You know, that's the shot I was supposed to make. That's how I feel," Fitch said. "I just didn't make it."

Fitch led the Wildcats (27-5) with 17 points and had seven rebounds. Erik Daniels added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Finley matched Fitch with 17 points. Gabe Kennedy and Donell Taylor added 13 apiece.

UAB challenged Kentucky from the start. With 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Johnson's three-pointer from the left wing broke a 19-19 tie, allowing the Blazers to play with the lead for the next 20 minutes.

It wasn't until 9:49 remained in the game that Fitch, with two free throws, capped an 11-0 Kentucky run and reclaimed the lead, 57-56.

When Johnson went to the bench with his fourth foul just 33 seconds later, Kentucky seemed to have the momentum as well in its quest to win an eighth national championship.

But the Blazers would take the lead, 72-71, when Finley connected on a three-pointer from the left baseline.

"They just made bigger plays than us. You know, they won the game," Fitch said. "That's all that mattered, they won the game."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

UAB-Kennedy 6-13 1-2 13, Eddins 4-12 1-2 9, Ball 0-3 0-0 0, C.Johnson 3-5 0-0 9, Finley 5-8 4-4 17, D.Taylor 6-10 0-1 13, R.Taylor 3-8 0-1 7, Lewis 1-2 2-3 4, T.Johnson 2-3 0-0 4, Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Broom 0-0 0-0 0, Tobias 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 30-67 8-13 76.

KENTUCKY-Daniels 5-6 1-2 12, Hayes 2-4 2-2 6, Hawkins 3-10 3-3 9, Fitch 5-16 3-4 17, Azubuike 5-11 2-3 12, Moss 2-2 0-0 6, Carrier 0-0 0-0 0, Alleyne 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 1-1 0-0 2, Barbour 4-11 3-4 11. Totals 27-61 14-18 75.

Half: UAB, 42-33. 3-point goals-UAB 8-18 (Finley 3-4, C.Johnson 3-4, D.Taylor 1-3, R.Taylor 1-5, Ball 0-1, Lewis 0-1), Kentucky 7-20 (Fitch 4-9, Moss 2-2, Daniels 1-1, Hawkins 0-2, Azubuike 0-3, Barbour 0-3).

Fouled out-None. Rebounds-UAB 33 (Kennedy 8), Kentucky 41 (Hayes 11). Assists-UAB 19 (R.Taylor 7), Kentucky 13 (Daniels 4). Total fouls-UAB 19, Kentucky 16. A-19,588.

No. 1 and done

No. 1 seeds who were eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament. No No. 1 seeds have been eliminated in the first round. Before 1985, No. 1 seeds received first-round byes:

1979: 9. Penn 72, 1. N. Carolina 71

1980: 8. UCLA 77, 1. DePaul 71

1981: 9. St. Joe's 42, 1. DePaul 41

......... 8. Kan. State 50, 1. Ore. State 48

1982: 8. BC 82, 1. DePaul 75

1985: 8. Villanova 59, 1. Mich. 55

1986: 8. Auburn 81, 1. St. John's 65

1990: 8. N. Carolina 79, 1. Okla. 77

1992: 9. UTEP 66, 1. Kansas 60

1994: 9. BC 75, 1. N. Carolina 72

1996: 8. Georgia 76, 1. Purdue 69

1998: 8. R. Island 80, 1. Kansas 75

2000: 8. Wisconsin 66, 1. Ariz. 59

......... 8. N. Carolina 60, 1. Stanford 53

2002: 8. UCLA 105, 1. Cinc. 101, OT

2004: 8. Ala. 70, 1. Stanford 67

......... 9. UAB 76, 1. Kentucky 75

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