Last time out on the court for the Blazers was a very impressive performance in the Bartow Classic where it seemed everything was going their way. UAB blew out Middle Tennessee 92-69 this past Saturday afternoon in front of a good crowd in Bartow Arena and improved to 18-8 overall and 9-6 in Conference USA. This was a big win for UAB because they now are solely in third place in the CUSA standings and a full game ahead of Middle Tennessee. The Blazers really controlled the game from the opening tip and it seemed that Andy Kennedy’s team was determined to get revenge on the Blue Raiders from what happened a few weeks ago in the Murphy Center.
The Blazers led by as many as thirty points in the contest and arguably had their best overall offensive performance of the season. UAB made 32/63 of its field goals for 50.8% and 13/25 of its three point shots for a red hot 52%. Even when UAB missed shots they crushed Middle Tennessee on the boards, out rebounding the Blue Raiders 43-26 and 17-9 on offensive rebounds. The Blazers also shared the ball well with 21 assists to just 9 turnovers. Jordan “Jelly” Walker led the way in scoring for UAB grabbing 25 points and going 7/14 from beyond the arc. One of the big stories coming out of the Bartow Classic is the performance of Ty Brewer. The 6’7” forward got a season-high 24 points, 12 rebounds and a couple of blocked shots to provide UAB the spark they needed early on to get going and never look back.
UAB has now won five out of its last six games and now it’s time for the Blazers to continue this positive momentum heading into the last few weeks of the regular season. UAB will have to play four out of their last five games of its regular season away from Bartow Arena and will hopefully play a few more in the Conference USA tournament in Frisco, TX. Next game up for UAB is one last trip to El Paso, TX as a member of CUSA to play the UTEP Miners. UTEP comes into Thursday night’s game with an overall record of 12-13 and 5-9 in CUSA. UAB owns the overall series record between these two programs 17-9 and have won the last 8 matchups.
Whereas the Blazers come into this contest winners of five out of their last six games; the Miners have lost five out of their last six. UTEP did win its last game on Saturday beating the Roadrunners of UTSA in the Convo Center 77-66. However, UTSA is the worst team in Conference USA and the Blazers will get to play them Saturday. The scary thing to note for UAB fans is that this same UTEP team that has been struggling lately played UAB to the wire in Bartow Arena. UAB barely escaped the Miners on December 29th in double overtime 79-73. In that game, UAB really couldn’t make many shots at all, going 24/66 from the floor and shooting a dreadful 3/24 from the three point line. UAB also turned the ball over 16 times in this first matchup and got killed on the boards getting out rebounded 53-39.
UTEP does have some talented players that Blazer fans will need to keep their eyes on this Thursday night. The first player is 6’3 ” Junior guard Tae Hardy. Blazer fans might remember the name because he led the Miners in scoring the first matchup against UAB with 22 points. Hardy averages about 13 points per game. The other player that UAB fans should focus on is 6 ‘7 ” Junior forward Calvin Solomon who also played well earlier in the season against the Blazers getting 16 points and going 7/14 from the field. Solomon averages 8 points and 6 rebounds per game. The Don Haskins Center is always a tough place to play for opposing teams and UAB certainly knows that with a record of 4-6 in that building. Expect a very physical matchup between these two teams like last time. Now let’s get to those three keys to getting a blazer victory:
- Hit free throws
This key seems super obvious because it might still be fresh on the minds of a lot of Blazer fans. Last time UAB was on the road against North Texas, it not only struggled getting to the free throw line but struggled making its free throws when getting there. The Blazers only made 5/10 (really 5/11 because an extra free throw was missed after a lane violation call). Winning games on the road in college basketball are never easy; especially in Conference USA. In order to take care of business the Blazers will simply have to get more trips to the line and knock down their free throws.
- Crash the boards
Last time these two teams met in December, UTEP dominated the boards against UAB. The Miners out rebounded the Blazers overall 53-39 and on the offensive boards also edged them out 20-14. The Blazers have done a much better job since that UTEP game in making rebounds a priority so they will need to continue this on Thursday to get out of El Paso with a win. This not only refers to Trey Jemison and the bigs down low, but UAB’s guards will also have to make sure to rebound and go after balls in front of them. UAB averages 41.5 rebounds per game and UTEP averages 35.7.
- Speed up the Miners
In the first matchup UAB was able to force UTEP into 25 turnovers. That stat alone really kept UAB in the game late and allowed the game to go into overtime. The Blazers have continued to play really well defensively and will need to speed up the Miners this Thursday night. Expect a lot of 1-3-1 from Andy Kennedy but also expect a lot of full court press. UTEP ranks next to last in Conference USA in assists per turnovers. The Miners average 12 assists per game but also average 15 turnovers per game. If the Blazers can rush UTEP into bad passes like they did in the first matchup this should be an easy win.
Prediction: UAB 80 UTEP 68 (of course now the game will go into double overtime like UAB and UTEP typically do when they play each other)
Don’t forget to give the Blazer Victory Podcast a listen where the guys preview this matchup and more (HERE).