LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Leave it to top-ranked Kentucky to give all their faithful fans a reason to relax and enjoy a big win to open up the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats’ big victory gave everyone else a chance to breathe a sigh of relief after a thrilling day in the Bluegrass State.
The KFC Yum! Center made NCAA Tournament history Thursday, becoming the first arena to host a trio of games decided by a single point, according to STATS.
The 14th-seeded UAB Blazers kicked off the day with the tournament’s first big upset, knocking off No. 3 seed Iowa State 60-59, and UCLA followed with a 3 off a goaltending call, beating SMU by the very same score.
“I happened to click it on SMU and UCLA, I watched the last 30, so you know I’m like, ‘What just happened?'” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
Then Cincinnati added to the day rallying to force overtime to beat Purdue 66-65, making Kentucky’s 79-56 win over Hampton look tame in comparison.
Topping Thursday’s games in Louisville won’t be easy:
COMEBACKS END: Iowa State came in ranked ninth nationally and appeared to be cruising after winning the Big 12 tournament last weekend only to be dominated by the scrappy Blazers on the boards. The Cyclones’ loss extended the tournament’s streak to a third straight year with a No. 3 seed going down to a 14 seed.
REVIEW STUNNER: The finish to UCLA’s stunning win left some of the sixth-seeded SMU Mustangs pounding the court in frustration and disappointment in a call dissected on social media with gifs and Vines. Mustangs center Yanick Moreira took the blame and apologized to teammates for touching the ball. He thought he timed his leap just right for the rebound. “As a senior you can’t make that mistake,” Moreira said. “Maybe I should have let the ball hit the rim and then get the rebound.”
BUZZER BEATER: Troy Caupain got redemption for clanking a layup with 61 seconds left and came up with a driving layup that hit the glass twice and even stayed on the back rim before falling through to beat the buzzer. That capped a 10-3 spurt that rallied eighth-seeded Cincinnati from a 7-point deficit with 48.5 seconds left.
“Once it was rolling around the rim, I stopped, I bent down a little bit, I looked up, and once it fell in the rim and the buzzer went off, I just smiled,” Caupain said.
CATS’ LATE NIGHT: The only question for Kentucky in the nightcap was the final margin in a game that ended after midnight, and the Wildcats led by as much as 35 before cruising into a ragged finish.
UAB: Fans now get another game to chant “Fire Ray Watts” in protest of the president shutting down the Blazers’ football program in December. The Blazers themselves have a chance at the program’s first regional semifinal since 2004.
Iowa State: The Cyclones went home two games earlier than a year ago and even more frustrated. Georges Niang was healthy, but they simply ran out of comebacks after rallying from double-digit deficits in their previous five games.
UCLA: The goaltending that lifted the Bruins into the next round had the NCAA’s head of officiating defending the call that awarded the underdog a key 3 to take the lead and win the game. “I’ve looked at it as many times as you, I’ll tell you this: I don’t know how you’d know if it had hit the rim, that it wouldn’t have bounced up and somehow worked its way in,” said John Adams, NCAA national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating.
SMU: The Mustangs lost their first tournament appearance since 1993 and spoiled coach Larry Brown’s first college postseason since leading Kansas to the 1988 title.
Cincinnati: Bearcats junior forward Octavius Ellis was ejected with 17:53 left after officials reviewed a play and saw Ellis catch A.J. Hammons with an elbow to the neck. It was Ellis’ third ejection this season.
Purdue: The Boilermakers snapped a 14-game winning streak in NCAA Tournament openers that had been the the fifth-longest streak in NCAA history. The streak started in 1994 with Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson and a win over UCF. Their last opening NCAA loss was in 1993 to Rhode Island.
Kentucky: Calipari simply wanted to get his team back to the hotel after having to wait out Cincinnati’s overtime win to take the court. That left the Wildcats stretching in the locker room and waiting in the tunnel before they got their chance.
Hampton: Coach Edward Joyner Jr. can’t wait to build off this appearance losing only one senior. “To get that type of exposure and to hear your university’s name announced that many times, not just on national TV, but throughout Facebook and Twitter,” Joyner said. “I mean, that’s probably $10 million worth of free publicity that we got this week. You can’t pay for that.”
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