TAMPA, Fla. — Western Kentucky didn't need a buzzer-beater this time.
Behind Courtney Lee's dazzling first-half performance and some clutch shooting down the stretch, the 12th-seeded Hilltoppers advanced to the round of 16 for the first time in 15 years with a 72-63 victory over 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.
Lee finished with 29 points, including a huge 3-pointer that gave his team the lead for good with 6:17 remaining. Six straight free throws in the final 34 seconds that sealed the victory.
Brazelton added 15 points for the Hilltoppers. Rogers, who hit the 26-footer at the buzzer in overtime to beat Drake in the first round, had a much quieter afternoon. He had five points, three rebounds and two assists.
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 into a nail-biter with about 6 minutes to play.
That may have been the scare the Hilltoppers needed. Afterall, they blew a 16-point lead against Drake before prevailing in the extra frame on Rogers' huge shot.
This time, Lee was the go-to guy.
His 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.
Considering what he did in the first half, it was no surprise Lee got the ball in the final minute.
The Hilltoppers shot 57 percent in the first half, a sizzling start that helped them open a 10-point lead in the first 10-plus minutes. They stretched it 37-23 with an 8-0 spurt just before halftime.
Lee was San Diego's biggest matchup problem.
Western Kentucky's leading scorer was 8-of-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. His 3-pointer a few minutes later gave the Hilltoppers a 7-5 lead they never relinquished.
Lee hit 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 waived off Rogers once before hitting a pull-up jumper in the lane.
Pomare kept the Toreros close, despite 17 turnovers and 4-of-15 shooting from 3-point range. After hitting 10 of 12 shots before fouling out in Friday's game, Pomare finished 7-of-10 from the field Sunday.
It wasn't enough.