UMBC's NCAA Tournament hopes end vs. Kansas State, but its Cinderella run was unforgettable

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UMBC's NCAA Tournament hopes end vs. Kansas State, but its Cinderella run was unforgettable

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — UMBC's improbable run through the NCAA Tournament was brief. The statement the Retrievers made and their place in history is forever.

For one weekend in March, the tiny commuter school from Baltimore known for its academics and championship-winning chess team captured the hearts of the college basketball world and beyond. UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 in March Madness, a victory over Virginia that made the Retrievers the ultimate Cinderella.

The fairytale came to an end Sunday night in a 50-43 loss to No. 9 Kansas State -- heartbreaking because it was a game UMBC could have won, but still satisfying because the Retrievers touched so many people by accomplishing what many thought was impossible.

"We put our name on the map. We gave hope to teams that come to the tournament with lower seeds," said senior guard K.J. Maura. "I think we gave hope to guys that are not even that tall like me. People that feel like they are underdogs in their life, I think we gave hope to everything they want to do in life."

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Stephen Curry noticed the team and sent UMBC the sneakers the team wore against Kansas State. The Golden State Warriors had his Curry 5s, which are in limited release, and other swag sent to the team. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams declared the Retrievers "Surgeon General approved" and posted a photo of himself on Facebook wearing a sweatshirt from his alma mater.

NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers tweeted to UMBC guard Joe Sherburne, who claims to be Rodgers' biggest fan. And for a team addicted to the video game "Fortnite," their dreams were made when Ninja, a popular gamer who recently played against rapper Drake and JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers, FaceTimed with the team early Sunday.

"They play with passion, they play with heart, they play together," coach Ryan Odom said. "We do things together for one another, and obviously when you have a big win like that (over Virginia) and it's so shocking, you know, people love to see that. They love to see the upset.

"And our guys handled it with grace and understood the circumstances. They weren't pounding their chests or anything. They expected to be here and expected to compete."

When UMBC returned to the locker room following its ouster, Odom had written just one word on the whiteboard. The Retrievers needed a buzzer-beating 3 against Vermont to win their conference title and make the NCAA Tournament, but they showed up believing they could beat Virginia, and the same about Kansas State.

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So Odom simply penned "Proud" on the board for his players.

"Just very proud of these kids and what they've been able to do as the representatives that they are for our university," Odom said. "Just captured our country and beyond, to be honest, from a sporting perspective and it's really, really neat to see."

Sherburne said Odom relayed stories from friends who had texted or called from outside the country to rave about UMBC. Near tears after an 0-for-9 shooting night, Sherburne found consolation in the joy UMBC brought to so many.

"From when we beat Vermont until the last two hours were the greatest time of my life," Sherburne said. "What we did, everyone in here, it's the greatest time of our lives."

Odom arrived at UMBC two years ago and inherited a team accustomed to losing. He told them he was going to get them to .500 that first year; they thought he was joking. But slowly the culture changed and the Retrievers did everything Odom told them they could accomplish.

And then some.

"When I got here, first we were a four-win team that year, and then the next year we went on to win seven games," said graduate student Jairus Lyles. "Then Coach Odom and his staff came in, we won 21 games and this year we had a tremendous season."

Odom doesn't know how far the UMBC program can grow. Those four letters are now synonymous with the biggest upset in college basketball history, but it's a long way from becoming a basketball school.

"UMBC is a unique place -- lot of high achieving kids on campus," Odom said. "We want guys that want to be great from a basketball perspective and want to play after college. But, at the same time, we want folks that are highly motivated academically that want to do great things past basketball. Because the air goes out of the ball at some point for everybody."

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South Carolina cruises past Virginia in second round of women's NCAA Tournament

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South Carolina cruises past Virginia in second round of women's NCAA Tournament

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley watched once more as All-American A'ja Wilson took control of a victory and whispered to an assistant, "How are we going to replace '22?'"

Fortunately for Staley, she doesn't have to find out the answer yet after Wilson, No. 22, had 25 points and 11 rebounds in her last-ever college home game to lead the Gamecocks to a fifth straight trip to the Sweet 16 with a 66-56 over No. 10 seeded Virginia in the women's NCAA Tournament's Albany Regional on Sunday night.

Wilson, the three-time Southeastern Conference player of the year, posted her 23rd double-double of the season and 53rd of her career for the Gamecocks (28-6).

"At the end of the game when I got subbed out that's when it sank in, this is my last time here," Wilson said. "My last time here in this uniform."

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And the second-seeded Gamecocks needed every one of Wilson's points to push past Virginia (19-14).

Up 30-25 at the half, South Carolina opened up a 12-point lead in the third period before the Cavaliers cut it to 46-40 with 10 minutes left. Virginia still trailed just 52-47 after Dominique Toussaint's driving bucket with 6:39 to play.

That's when Doniyah Cliney hit a high-arching 3-pointer from the right corner and Wilson added two short jumpers to put the Gamecocks in front by double digits. Virginia could not respond.

Wilson came out of the game for good with 34.5 seconds left to a standing ovation from the late-night crowd. She hugged head coach Dawn Staley before standing on the sidelines and gabbing with the training staff as time ticked away.

After a quick TV interview, Wilson danced her way around the Colonial Life Arena, waving to adoring fans -- there were 10,037 for Staley's late-night pajama party -- and stopping in front of the pep band to dance some more before running to embrace her parents.

"This has been a great four years," said Wilson, whose family is about 30 minutes from campus in Hopkins. "This is my home and, hopefully, when I return, we'll have the same energy."

Wilson added three of her team's five blocks and three assists in her final game on her home court. The Gamecocks have gone 62-4 at home with Wilson on the roster.

South Carolina has reached the round of 16 for the past five seasons -- including four with Wilson -- and six of the past seven years.

Virginia was seeking its first regional semifinal since 2010. The Cavaliers hung tough most of the game despite going up against Staley, the greatest women's athlete in Virginia athletics who led the program to three Final Fours when she played from 1989-92.

"I'm so incredibly proud of this team, just their fight," Cavaliers coach Joanne Boyle said. "They just fought and believed in each other."

Toussaint and J'Kyra Brown had 16 points each to lead Virginia.

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BIG PICTURE

Virginia: The Cavaliers showed tenacity and grit in their first two NCAA games since their last appearance in 2010. With three of their top five scorers from this season sophomores, including leading scorer Dominique Toussaint, Virginia will look to continue making strides in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks out-talented the competition -- perhaps even out-Wilsoned them -- in two home NCAA games. That won't fly in Albany in the Sweet 16 if the defending national champions hope to make a second straight title run in a region that includes No. 1 overall seed UConn. South Carolina will need more production from point guard Tyasha Harris and Alexis Jennings, who combined to go 8-of-20 shooting in the win over Virginia.

ANTHEM MIX UP

When it was time for the national anthem, only Virginia was lined up and ready. South Carolina was in the locker room, thinking it would not be played until the pre-game clock ran down (as was the case during the regular season) instead of with 12 minutes to go per the NCAA's run down. Dawn Staley apologized for her team's absence. "Charge it to our heads and not our hearts," she said.

LOUD CROWD

If anyone thought fans wouldn't turn out for a late Sunday game, they don't know fans of the Gamecock women's basketball team. There were 10,037 people in attendance, several in pajamas to honor the late start. Both Boyle and Wilson said the continued cheering and shouting made it hard to call signals. "Dawn said to me, `They're crazy,'" Boyle said. "She meant that in a good way."

RELATED: UMBC'S HISTORIC RUN ENDS IN SECOND ROUND

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Maryland women's shooting struggles lead to second-round loss vs. N.C. State

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Maryland women's shooting struggles lead to second-round loss vs. N.C. State

RALEIGH, N.C.  — Kiara Leslie had 21 points and 11 rebounds against her former team, and North Carolina State beat Maryland 74-60 on Sunday in the second round of the women's NCAA Tournament.

Leslie, who spent three seasons at Maryland before graduating and transferring to N.C. State, finished one point shy of a career high.

Kalia Ealey and Chelsea Nelson added 12 points apiece while Akela Maize scored 11 to help the fourth-seeded Wolfpack (26-8) earn their first Sweet 16 appearance since the late Kay Yow led an inspirational run in 2007.

RELATED: MEN'S SWEET 16 TV SCHEDULE

N.C. State, which shot 45 percent and was 7 of 14 from 3-point range, will play the Oklahoma State-Mississippi State winner on Friday night in the Kansas City Regional semifinals.

Brianna Fraser had 17 points for the fifth-seeded Terrapins (26-8), who were held to 37 percent shooting.

Leading scorer Kaila Charles, plagued all day by foul trouble, finished with four points -- 14 fewer than her average -- on 2-of-8 shooting before fouling out with 2:29 left. She had scored in double figures in 30 of her previous 33 games.

Maryland's offense, which averages 80 points, had trouble scoring against one of the nation's stingiest defenses.

N.C. State allows 56.7 points per game and only one team in the past two months -- top-seeded Notre Dame -- has reached 70 against the Wolfpack.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: The Terrapins were denied their sixth Sweet 16 in seven years in part because their potent perimeter game was nonexistent. Maryland, at 39.1 percent the nation's seventh-most accurate team, missed all five of its 3s. Kristen Confroy, who's third in the nation from long range at 40.3 percent, didn't attempt one.

N.C. State: Leslie kept tormenting her former teammates by turning steals into layups. Big brother C.J. Leslie led the N.C. State men's program to a Sweet 16 in 2012, and now she's headed to one, too.

UP NEXT

N.C. State will play either top-seeded Mississippi State or ninth-seeded Oklahoma State on Friday night in the Kansas City Regional semifinals.

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