March 20, 2004
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By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio - The team that took down Stanford got its comeuppance in the NCAA tournament.
Demario Eddins scored a career-high 26 points and made the decisive plays in the closing seconds Friday night, leading Alabama-Birmingham to a 102-100 first-round victory over Washington.
The game ended well past midnight, leaving a crowd that included former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson drained by the nonstop drama.
"One of my first expressions would be: `Wow, what a game!" UAB coach Mike Anderson said. "I had a feeling it would be entertaining, but to give up 100 points and win ... This team has continued to amaze me."
Eddins, a sophomore forward who usually is more of a complementary player, took the lead down the stretch.
He took a charge that negated a basket, hit two free throws with 16.2 seconds left and blocked a shot, sending the Blazers (21-9) to their first tournament victory since 1986.
"It seems the bigger the moment, the better he plays," Anderson said. "He showed it all tonight."
With Richardson trying to direct defense from the stands - Anderson was his assistant for 20 years - the Blazers barely held on.
Maurice Finley hit a free throw with 1.3 seconds left for the final margin, then missed his second attempt. Brandon Roy got the rebound and made a full-court heave that bounced off the top of the backboard.
"Honestly, I was just praying between the free throws," said Finley, who was only 5-of-11 from the line overall. "I knew it was going to come down to free throws. We were fortunate to make a few more than they did."
Alabama-Birmingham will play No. 1 seed Kentucky in the second round of the St. Louis Regional on Sunday.
Washington (19-12) stopped Stanford's unbeaten streak at 26 games on March 6, part of a late-season surge that got the Huskies back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. They didn't stick around for very long.
"I told them that when the dust settles and the emotion of the loss is behind you, understand that we made significant progress this year," coach Lorenzo Romar said.
UAB, also is making its first tournament appearance in five years, broke a streak of four consecutive first-round losses.
Finley, a senior guard who tried to take charge down the stretch, added 20 points on an off-night overall - only 3-of-12 from behind the arc. Nate Robinson led Washington with 27 points.
Alabama-Birmingham won a share of the Conference USA regular-season title with its combination of quickness and depth. The Blazers led the nation with 11.7 steals per game - they'll spring a trap just about anywhere on the floor - and regularly shuffle their lineup.
Washington got an idea of what was in store during the first seven minutes. Six Blazers scored in an opening 19-9 spurt fed by four turnovers.
UAB held a single-digit lead for most of the half as the teams traded baskets. Finally, the Huskies found their stride - full-speed, that is. Washington likes to push the pace and averages 81.4 points, among the best in the country.
Robinson led the surge that gave Washington its first lead late in the half. He missed only one shot in the half, going 5-of-6 for 15 points.
Finley asserted himself in the opening moments of the second half, hitting a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc. Finley also had a short jumper and a lay-in during a 16-1 spurt that gave UAB a 72-61 lead with 12:03 to go.
Washington crept back behind Robinson, whose driving layup cut it to 90-89 with 1:53 left. He and Eddins then were involved in a pivotal play that kept Washington playing catch-up.
Robinson drove and scored with 38.4 seconds left, but Eddins took a charge and the basket was waved off, leaving UAB up 94-91.
"I let the ball go, and the dude kind of stood there in front of me and I was going forward," said Robinson, who played cornerback for Washington on a football scholarship in 2002. "It's tough. I take full responsibility because that changed the game."
Finley missed a pair of free throws, allowing Washington to close within 98-97 on Robinson's lay-in with 18.7 seconds left. Eddins made two free throws with 16.2 seconds left, then blocked Will Conroy's driving layup attempt.