COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Some players stared in disbelief while others blinked back tears in Kentucky's somber locker room.
Outside, the school's band fought its way through a rendition of "My Old Kentucky Home" as fans in various shades of blue shook their heads and wondered what in the world had gone wrong.
Once again, the Wildcats were going home early from the NCAA Tournament.
Mo Finley made a 17-foot jumper with 12.2 seconds left and ninth-seeded Alabama-Birmingham hung on to stun the tournament's No. 1 seed, 76-75, yesterday in the second round of the St. Louis Regional.
Kentucky's Gerald Fitch missed a 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left and Chuck Hayes's tip rolled off the rim just before the final horn, ending the Wildcats' season short of their stated goal -- an eighth national championship.
"I'm still in shock," Hayes said. "It's tough to look at my teammates right now."
The Wildcats (27-5) followed Stanford's early exit, leaving Saint Joseph's and Duke as the remaining top seeds after two rounds of the tourney.
Meanwhile, the Blazers (22-9) advanced to the Round of 16 for the first time since 1982. UAB will play fourth-seeded Kansas Friday.
"It's pretty unbelievable," said Finley, a senior. "It feels pretty good right now. That shot definitely was a blessing from above. Hopefully, I've got a lot more games left in the tournament, but I don't know if it can get any better than this." Using a "40 minutes of Hell" attack that their coach Mike Anderson learned under Nolan Richardson at Arkansas, the Blazers took it to the Wildcats from the outset.
Kentucky rallied all the way back from a 10-point deficit in the second half and took a 75-74 lead with 29.3 seconds left when Kelenna Azubuike dunked in a miss. UAB called its last timeout before Finley made the shot that will go down in Blazers' history.
Dribbling on the right side, the 6-foot-3-inch senior used a pump fake to get Hayes in the air, and then stepped inside the 3-point arc to drain his jumper.
Kentucky called time to set up a play that ended with Fitch getting a clean look from the left wing. It went off the mark as did Hayes's attempt and the Blazers bounced off their bench in celebration.
"I thought I had a pretty good look," Fitch said. "That's a shot I'm supposed to make -- that's how I feel. I just didn't make it."
Finley scored 17 points and Donell Taylor and Gabe Kennedy 13 apiece for the Conference USA regular season co-champs, who had an answer for everything Kentucky threw at them.
Fitch had 17 points and Erik Daniels added 12 for the Wildcats, who after enduring "40 minutes of Hell" will now experience seven months of heated debate by their zealous fans and more regret before they'll play again.
Kentucky stormed back and opened a 69-63 lead on a 3-pointer by Fitch with 5:06 left. But the relentless Blazers wouldn't fold and pulled even at 69-69 when Carldell Johnson stole a pass and found Demario Eddins for a layup with 1:58 left. Just like pesky 16th-seeded Florida A&M, which gave Kentucky fits for nearly 30 minutes before losing in Friday's opening round, the Blazers were never intimidated by the Wildcats, their fans or their tradition.