Before previewing UAB’s matchup this Saturday night at Western Kentucky let’s talk about what happened Thursday night in Bartow Arena. The Blazers got its fourth straight win as they steamed, boiled, and fried the Rice Owls on Senior Night 85-57. Jordan “Jelly” Walker led the way in scoring for UAB grabbing 32 points. Walker now has the most 30 point games in UAB history at 8 passing his coach Andy Kennedy that had 7 during his playing career with the Blazers. KJ Buffen also got to double figures Thursday for the Blazers scoring 14 points. UAB shot 54% from the field in the first half and had pretty much all they wanted Thursday evening. The Blazers not only dominated the first half offensively but also defensively holding the Owls to just 24 points. Rice ended up shooting 20/62 for an abysmal 32.3% from the field. UAB also dominated the glass out rebounding Rice 50-33. With the win over Rice the Blazers improve their overall record to 21-8 and 12-6 in Conference USA. A win Saturday and a Middle Tennessee loss (vs Louisiana Tech) locks up the number three seed for the Blazers in the Conference USA tournament in Frisco, TX. Can UAB continue its hot streak on the road?
UAB will next travel to Bowling Green, KY Saturday night to take on Western Kentucky for possibly the final time as members of Conference USA. Of all the teams we are leaving behind in CUSA, I will miss playing the Hilltoppers the most and hope that UAB can continue to play them in the non-conference on future schedules. The Hilltoppers come into the matchup with an overall record of 15-13 and 7-10 in Conference USA. Things have not gone well for Western Kentucky this year as they have had a disappointing season under head coach Rick Stansbury. Western Kentucky is coming off a win over Louisiana Tech who is also struggling this season in Conference USA.
UAB owns the overall series record 26-18 over Western Kentucky but they have struggled in Diddle Arena with a record of 12-13. Last season in Diddle, Jordan Walker hit a late three pointer to get the 68-65 win for the Blazers over Western Kentucky. Earlier this season the teams met in Bartow Arena where the Hilltoppers won 80-78. Western Kentucky was able to shoot the ball really well in the game going 28/59 from the field for 47.5% and 10/19 from three for 52.6%. UAB had plenty of opportunities to beat Western in that game but poor free-throw shooting and key turnovers late in the game proved too much to overcome.
Blazer fans will need to keep an eye on two players for Western Kentucky. The first player to keep an eye on is Dayvion McKnight. The 6’ 1” Junior guard is Western Kentucky’s leading scorer and averages 17 points per game. In the first game this season at UAB, McKnight was able to get above his average scoring 27 points. McKnight went 10/21 from the field and 3/4 from beyond the arc. Mcknight is near the top in Conference USA when it comes to field goal percentage averaging right around 45% per game. McKnight is also good at drawing contact and getting to the free throw line where he is also one of the top free throw shooters in the conference. UAB will need to make sure to always have an eye on him on offense but must be careful not to foul him.
The second player that UAB fans will need to keep an eye on is Jamarion Sharp. The 7’ 5” center is a menace when it comes to blocking shots on defense. Sharp currently leads Conference USA in blocked shots per game averaging four blocks per game. UAB actually did well in the first game, limiting Sharp to just 5 points and only 3 blocks. The Blazers will need to make sure to take advantage of making open shots and if Sharp is heading their way for a block make the extra pass to the open player for a higher percentage look. Now let’s get to those three keys to getting a blazer victory Saturday at Diddle:
- Take advantage of good looks
Western Kentucky is a really good defensive team so it is important for UAB to knock down their shots when they get good looks Saturday night. As mentioned earlier, Jamarion Sharp is a blocking machine down low and can scare opposing teams from going inside. Western Kentucky is third in Conference USA in opponent field goal percentage giving up just 41.4% of baskets (UAB is right behind them at 41.5%). The Blazers got some good looks in the first game of the season against Western Kentucky but just could not convert them. UAB has been shooting better as of late so hopefully they will be able to make those open looks this time.
- Make your free throws on the road
This is such an obvious key that it probably should have been listed as the number one key for UAB to win this Saturday. When the Blazers struggle from the free throw line it doesn’t bode well for them. In the first matchup against Western Kentucky, UAB was just 18-28 for 64.3%. Some of UAB’s losses on the road were because they struggled at the free throw line. If UAB can shoot it better than 75% from the free throw line and get to the line often at Western Kentucky then they should be able to come out of Diddle Arena with a victory.
- Tavin Lovan has a good homecoming
What better time than now for Tavin Lovan to have a great game? The 6’ 4” guard from Franklin, KY has another chance to show the hometown school that passed on him that they made a huge mistake. Lovan has not had his best season this year but should be geared up ready to face Western Kentucky in front of family and friends this Saturday night. UAB will need Lovan’s energy on the court and hope that it spreads to the rest of the team.
Prediction: UAB 78 WKU 75
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