San Diego
WKU
63 - 72 Final
  for this game

Lee's effort fuels Western Kentucky's "Sweet" 16 berth

Mar 23, 2008 - 11:29 PM TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Perhaps Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn just has impeccable timing.

Courtney Lee scored 29 points to power the 12th-seeded Hilltoppers to a 72-63 victory over 13th-seeded San Diego in second-round action in the NCAA Tournament's West Regional on Sunday.

For the first time since he played there from 1992-1995, Horn has Western Kentucky in the "Sweet 16." In 1993, Horn played a key role in the Hilltoppers making it to their last NCAA regional semifinal berth.

"You know, it's a great feeling," Horn said. "I think because when you play at a place that you coach at, you feel like you've really put into the tradition and helped add to it. So there's a greater sense of pride with it."

The Hilltoppers had been defeated in each of their last three tournament appearances from 2001-03 since Horn - a senior on the 1995 team - led Western Kentucky to first-round win over Michigan before bowing out to Kansas in the next round.

"I'm not totally surprised that we're here," Horn said. "You know, we thought this was a special team coming into it. We spent years developing this style of play and putting together the kind of depth and athleticism and skill that gives you a chance to do this in tournament action.

"We've been telling these guys for two years at least, three years, really, if we get there we've got a real chance to make some noise. That being said, it's a great thrill for me personally to watch our guys enjoy it. Because as a player that's been through it, it's one of the most special times in your life."

After holding as much as a 15-point lead early in the second half, the Hilltoppers (29-6) briefly allowed the Toreros (22-14) to take a one-point lead with just over six minutes remaining.

However, Lee helped Western Kentucky turn the tables on San Diego from that point on, hitting the final of his four 3-pointers to help regain the lead for good.

Western Kentucky finished with a game-ending 18-8 run, capped by six straight free throws from Lee, as San Diego was attempting to stage another comeback.

"Maybe now all of you all can stop talking about has Courtney stepped up," Horn said. "Did he have his A-game? The kid won for us whether he scored 15 or 30. ... The kid's a tremendous player, he's got a great heart, and we would not be here without him, period."

San Diego made just two of its final seven shots.

The win moves the Hilltoppers into a matchup against No. 1 seed UCLA (33-3) on Thursday.

"I think it's a great opportunity for our program," Horn said. "You know, UCLA is obviously an outstanding team right now, it is the No. 1 seed. It is recognized as one of the five or six best programs in the country in college basketball traditionally. For us to be not only playing against them but being one of 16 that's left on a national stage is a great opportunity for our program."

Throughout the first half, San Diego's Gyno Pomare and Lee waged a personal battle, scoring 15 and 19 points, respectively.

Pomare's layup at 10:46 of the first half trimmed the Hilltoppers' lead to 17-13, but Lee answered with 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to stretch the lead to 10 points.

While another layup from Pomare cut the lead to six points with just six minutes remaining before the break, Jeremy Evans scored four consecutive points in a 10-4 half-ending run to establish a 39-27 heading into intermission.

Western Kentucky extended the bulge to 15 points with 16:08 remaining at 50-35 on a 3-pointer from Tyrone Brazelton.

After each team exchanged baskets, San Diego buckled down on defense and forced the Hilltoppers to go 1-for-11 from the field over the next nine minutes.

The cold-shooting spell allowed the Toreros to go on a 18-2 run, capped by Devin Ginty's shot from the arc to give San Diego its first lead, 55-54, with 6:37 remaining.

"Not at all," said Lee when asked if the Hilltoppers were concerned about the momentum change. "Just like Friday's game, we just learn from it. It's been a number of games we've been close in that situation. So we just have great poise, and we just know we're going to come down and attack and do the things we need to do."

Pomare finished with 20 points and nine rebounds to lead San Diego.

"I can't fault our group for the way they competed and battled back," San Diego coach Bill Grier said. "I mean, it looked bleak out there down 14. That's been one thing about this group pretty much all season.

"We've dug some holes and they fought back. We did that in our conference tournament. We were down 17 to St. Mary's, and found a way to battle back into the game and get a win. We just didn't have enough left in the tank to finish it down the stretch."