The UAB Blazers have possibly turned a corner this season by winning their last four consecutive. Prior to this winning streak they lost 5 out of their last 6 games. In last Saturday’s win over Florida International University (FIU), it was not all pretty but they found a way to get the job done and beat the Panthers 76-72 thanks to a tip-in by Trey Jemison.
Head coach Andy Kennedy said in his postgame presser: “Four game winning streak we’ll certainly take it. When you get to February they don’t say how…they say how many.” The Blazers led by as many as 19 points in the contest but committed 22 turnovers which allowed the Panthers to stay in the ball game late. Earlier this season in Miami, UAB let a 16-point lead over this same FIU team slip away and they lost in overtime. This time, however, they were able to find a way in the end to grind out a win to improve their overall record to 17-7. More importantly, UAB improved their record in Conference USA to 8-5 . In the previous game, UAB beat #19 ranked Florida Atlantic University (FAU) 86-77 and got the Blazers its first win in Bartow Arena against a ranked opponent in nearly a decade. The Owls had the nation’s longest winning streak of 20 games before losing to UAB.
The Blazers also took care of business the week before by beating a scrappy Louisiana Tech team at home as well as going to Houston, TX and blowing out a solid Rice team without 3 players (Javian Davis and Ty Brewer were both suspended for the game and Jordan “Jelly” Walker was injured). Now the next challenge awaits Andy Kennedy and the Blazers as they try to prove that they are still one of the top teams in Conference USA.
This Thursday February 6th, the Blazers will travel to Denton, TX to the Super Pit to take on the North Texas Mean Green in a key Conference USA matchup. The Mean Green are currently in second place in the CUSA standings while UAB is just two games behind them. It is worth noting that the top 5 teams in CUSA get a first round by in this year’s CUSA Tournament next month in Frisco,TX. The good news for UAB fans is that the Blazers have won 5 games in a row against North Texas in Denton dating all the way back to the 2016-17 season. However, the bad news is that these two teams squared off just two weeks ago in Birmingham where the Mean Green took it to the Blazers winning 63-52.
In that first matchup UAB simply could not make many shots at all going 17/47 (36%) from the field and an abysmal 1/10 (10%) from beyond the arc. Of note, UAB’s leading scorer, Jordan “Jelly” Walker, did not play after injuring his foot late in the game against Western Kentucky 10 days prior. UAB also struggled defensively against North Texas allowing 6’10” Forward Abou Ousmane to go 6/11 from the field and get 13 points. Senior guard Kai Huntsberry led the Mean Green with 19 points converting 3/6 from three and hitting 4/6 of his free throws. North Texas converted 8/17 (47.1%) from the three-point line and 24/50 (48%) overall from the field. Can UAB shake off the first matchup and continue its winning streak? Let’s take a look at our three keys to a blazer victory:
1. Contain Tylor Perry
This first one is pretty obvious because Tylor Perry, the 5’11” Senior guard for the Mean Green is their best player on the court. Blazer fans should remember him from last year’s game in Bartow nailing a last second shot to lift North Texas over UAB. Perry has made many clutch shots over the past couple years for North Texas and is their leader on the court. In the last matchup against UAB, Perry went for 10 points. When the shot clock winds down (and it certainly will a lot with North Texas’ style of play) look for the Mean Green to try and find Perry the ball.
2. Protect the ball
If UAB has a similar performance like it did against FIU this past Saturday there is no way the Blazers have a chance at winning. UAB guards Eric Gaines and Jordan “Jelly” Walker will have to make good decisions against this stout North Texas defense to have the opportunity to come back to Birmingham with a key win in CUSA play. It will be important for UAB’s guards not to force passes or force bad shots but instead try and be patient to take their time to get the best looks for UAB on offense.
3. Win the matchup inside (Jemison vs Ousmane)
UAB’s bigs Trey Jemison and Javian Davis will have to make sure to contain Abou Ousmane for North Texas on the inside. When Ousmane can get multiple quality looks and put backs inside for North Texas they hardly ever lose. It is important for Trey Jemison to stay out of foul trouble and be the dominant defensive presence like he has in the past. If UAB can win the battle inside they can force North Texas to keep the ball around the perimeter and settle for contested outside shots. If UAB can continue to play well as a team defensively like they have the last four games, they certainly can come out of the Super Pit with another win to add to its streak.
UAB 65 North Texas 61