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March 23, 2008

Lee lifts Western Kentucky over San Diego

MORE: Rivals.com NCAA Tourney Central | HIGHLIGHTS: Western Kentucky stops San Diego

TAMPA Western Kentucky already has a clutch 3-pointer to call its one shining moment in this year's tournament.

Though not the buzzer-beating game-winner in overtime that Ty Rogers launched against first-round opponent Drake, Courtney Lee's late 3-pointer against San Diego was just as devastating.

No. 12-seeded Western Kentucky withstood a second-half comeback to defeat No. 13 seed San Diego 72-63 in the West Regional and advance to its second Sweet 16 since the field expanded in 1984. The Hilltoppers advance to face top-seeded UCLA in Phoenix thanks to a 3-pointer from their star guard.

San Diego trailed by as many as 15 points in the second half before rallying for a 55-54 lead - the second time in as many games that Western blew a second-half lead that large. But Western Kentucky emphatically erased it 18 seconds later on Lee's 3-pointer and never trailed again.

"It was like a knife," San Diego forward Rob Jones said. "It stabbed us right there."

After taking a back seat thanks to the heroics of Tyrone Brazelton and Rogers in the first round, Lee lived up to his status as Western Kentucky's go-to player on Sunday. He finished with 29 points and seven rebounds while going 9-for-15 from the field.

His shot with 6:17 remaining will be remembered as just the second-biggest shot in Western Kentucky's run to the Sweet 16, but it nonetheless marked the Hilltoppers' return to the national stage. Western last reached the Sweet 16 in 1993, when coach Darrin Horn was a player for the Hilltoppers.

Lee was the hero on the stat sheet, but Rogers was just as valuable against the Toreros. He guarded San Diego leading scorer Brandon Johnson all day. Johnson finished with 13 points on 4-for-15 shooting and committed six turnovers.

Western Kentucky looked as if it would run away early by pushing the pace. The Hilltoppers took a 37-23 lead in the first half before San Diego recovered.

"They got us out of our comfort zone and kind of sped us a little bit, just sped it up too much," said San Diego forward Gyno Pomare, who led the Toreros with 20 points and nine rebounds. "In the second half we slowed it down some and we were right there, but we just got to make plays at the end."

MORE: Rivals.com NCAA Tourney Central | HIGHLIGHTS: Western Kentucky stops San Diego

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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