San Diego vs Western Kentucky

Lee propels 12th-seeded Hilltoppers into Sweet 16, past No. 13 seed Toreros


TAMPA, Fla. -- Western Kentucky blew another big lead, then responded with another clutch performance.

Lee plays big for Western Kentucky, fallen teammate
by Pete Prisco
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Behind Courtney Lee's dazzling array of shots early and his free throws down the stretch, the 12th-seeded Hilltoppers advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 15 years with a 72-63 victory against No. 13 San Diego on Sunday.

Now comes the toughest test.

Western Kentucky (29-6) will face top-seeded UCLA in the West Region semifinals in Phoenix. The Hilltoppers can only hope their three senior guards -- Lee, Tyrone Brazelton and Ty Rogers -- will carry them through another round.

"I'm not totally surprised that we're here," Hilltoppers coach Darrin Horn said. "We thought this was a special team coming into it. ... We've been telling these guys for two years, three years really, 'If we get there, we've got a real chance to make some noise."'

And a chance to prove how important guard play is in the tournament.

Lee, the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, finished with 29 points and seven rebounds. He had a huge 3-pointer that gave his team the lead for good with 6:17 remaining, then sank six consecutive free throws in the final 34 seconds to seal the victory.

Brazelton added 15 points for the Hilltoppers, who won for the 19th time in 20 games.

Rogers, who hit a 26-footer at the buzzer in overtime to beat Drake in the first round, had a much quieter afternoon offensively. He had five points, three rebounds and two assists. But he came up big on the defensive end, holding San Diego's Brandon Johnson to 4-for-15 shooting and 13 points.

"He's Mr. One Shining Moment right now," Horn said. "His defensive performance on Johnson was a huge key to the game. He had to work awful hard for what he did get, and Ty had him most of the time."

Gyno Pomare had 20 points and nine rebounds for the Toreros (22-14), who overcame a 15-point deficit in the second half before fading in the closing minutes.

Devin Ginty's 3-pointer capped an 18-2 run that turned a lopsided game, 52-37, into a nail biter with about six minutes to play.

That may have been the scare the Hilltoppers needed. After all, they lost a 16-point lead to Drake before prevailing on Rogers' buzzer-beater.

This time, Lee was the go-to guy.

"He hit a big shot, but he hit big shots all day," San Diego coach Bill Grier said. "I think he's a future NBA kid. He played a terrific game at the right time."

Lee's 3-pointer came a few seconds after Ginty gave San Diego a 55-54 lead, the Toreros' first since going up 5-4 early.

Brazelton hit another 3 a few minutes later, then Western Kentucky pulled away from the free-throw line as San Diego kept missing shots.

"They got us out of our comfort zone and kind of sped us up a little bit," Pomare said. "Just sped it up too much."

Considering what Lee did in the first half, it was no surprise the 6-foot-5 Indiana native got the ball in the final minute.

The Hilltoppers shot 57 percent before the break, a sizzling start that helped them open a 10-point lead in the first 10-plus minutes. They stretched it to 37-23 with an 8-0 spurt just before halftime.

And Lee was San Diego's main matchup problem.

Western Kentucky's leading scorer was 8-for-11 shooting and had 19 points in the first 20 minutes.

Maybe the Toreros should have known they were in for a long afternoon when they lost the opening tip and then watched Lee drive for an easy layup.

Lee added a bank shot, two runners in the lane and finished the first half 3-for-4 from 3-point range. The Toreros switched defenders several times in an effort to slow him down, but nothing worked.

Lee was clearly feeling it. He even waved off Rogers once before hitting a pull-up jumper in the lane.

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
Courtney Lee's 29 points and seven boards kick the Hilltoppers to their 19th win in the past 20 games.  (AP)
Courtney Lee's 29 points and seven boards kick the Hilltoppers to their 19th win in the past 20 games. (AP)
Related Links
San Diego #13273663
Western Kentucky #12 «393372
SDG:G. Pomare 20 Pts
SDG:G. Pomare 9 Reb
SDG:B. Johnson 4 Ast
WKTY:C. Lee 29 Pts
WKTY:C. Lee 7 Reb
WKTY:T. Brazelton 5 Ast

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Western KentuckySan Diego
C. Lee
G. Pomare
San Diego Toreros
B. Johnson, G384-153-844313
D. Jackson, G373-61-22357
R. Jones, F364-63-651311
G. Pomare, F347-106-892220
T. Johnson, G242-72-21047
D. Ginty, G201-30-01013
C. Houston, F90-02-23122
C. Lewis, G-F20-00-01000
D. Brown, GDid Not Play
P. Lacey, FDid Not Play
D. Fleming, FDid Not Play
N. Lozeau, CDid Not Play
N. Price, UDid Not Play
Totals 21-4717-2826111463
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
C. Lee, G-F359-157-871329
T. Brazelton, G346-151-435115
T. Rogers, G311-33-33235
J. Evans, F293-73-47129
D. Magley, F110-10-01140
A. Slaughter, G181-12-21024
B. Siakam, F173-30-03036
O. Mendez-Valdez, G141-30-00102
S. Pettigrew, G-F111-40-02012
A. Howard, GDid Not Play
M. Maresca, FDid Not Play
M. Walker, FDid Not Play
J. Aguilar, CDid Not Play
D. Gabou, GDid Not Play
A. Pegues, CDid Not Play
B. Frazier, FDid Not Play
Totals 25-5216-2127111972
West Coast
TeamConf. W-LTot. W-LRPI Rank
St. Marys0-08-281
San Diego0-07-296
San Fran.0-05-3208
Santa Clara0-03-6345

Sun Belt
TeamConf. W-LTot. W-LRPI Rank
Ga. Southern0-07-245
Georgia St.0-06-3230
Coast. Car.0-05-5191
S. Alabama0-05-5296
Texas St.0-05-5335
App. St.0-05-6271
Arkansas St.0-03-6342
Little Rock0-02-7310
Other games
Siena 72 Final
Miami-FL 72 Final
Texas 75
Butler 71 Final
Tenn 76
DAVID 74 Final
Miss St 74 Final
Memphis 77
Oklahoma 48 Final
Louisville 78
Arkansas 77 Final
NC 108