UAB’s 2022-23 regular season will come to an end this Saturday afternoon in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Blazers will travel to the Dale F. Halton Arena to take on the Charlotte 49ers in a possible big game for seeding purposes for the Conference USA tournament in Frisco next week. UAB comes into this matchup with an overall record of 22-8 and 13-6 in Conference USA play. The Blazers are currently on a five game winning streak and have won 9 out of their last 10 games. Charlotte is currently 18-11 overall and 9-9 in Conference USA. The 49ers will play at UTSA Thursday night before playing the Blazers on Saturday. UAB owns the overall series record over Charlotte 33-19 and are 17-14 on the road against the 49ers. The question for this game though is will this game on Saturday really even matter for UAB?
UAB has already clinched a bye into the quarterfinals but can clinch the number 3 seed for next week’s conference tournament. Some might ask what’s the significance of getting a 3 seed since a bye has already been clinched? The 4 and the 5 seed will both play each other Thursday night and the 3 seed will get to play the winner of Wednesday night’s game between the 6 and 11 seed. If UAB can get the 3 seed it will play a team that already had to play the night before while the Blazers will be fresh. Now the Blazers can clinch the number three seed in the Conference USA tournament a couple of different ways and the first way does not even involve UAB. Blazer fans will be tuning in Thursday night to see what happens in Denton, TX as the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will play at North Texas. Middle Tennessee has a conference record of 11-7 and will need to win Thursday at North Texas and then again Saturday at UTEP. If the Blue Raiders win both games then UAB will have to get a win over the 49ers. Now if Middle Tennessee loses one of those games then UAB will get the number three seed regardless of what happens at Charlotte Saturday.
UAB and Charlotte met once before back in December when the Blazers got a 76-68 victory in Bartow Arena. Jordan “Jelly” Walker led UAB in scoring with 25 points and was 4/9 from behind the three-point line that night. Eric Gaines, Trey Jemison, and Ty Brewer also got into double figures for the Blazers. UAB was able to force Charlotte into 16 turnovers and some woeful free throw shooting allowing the Blazers to get the win over the 49ers that night. Charlotte seems to have maybe found something late because they have won four games in a row (if they beat UTSA Thursday night will be 5 in a row) and have won five out of their last six. One of those wins was over North Texas beating the Mean Green in a defensive battle (or poor offense, you decide) 55-49. This Saturday’s game will be a game between two hot teams in Conference USA.
There are two players for Charlotte that UAB fans will need to keep an eye on Saturday afternoon. The first is Junior 6’ 7” guard Brice Williams from Huntersville, North Carolina. Williams averages 12.6 points per game and scored a team-high 25 points in his last game against Rice. In the first matchup against the Blazers Williams did not start but came off the bench and scored 15 points. The second player Blazer fans will need to keep an eye on is Sophomore 6’ 11” forward Aly Khalifa. Khalifa averages 11.4 points per game but leads the team in rebounding averaging about 6.6 rebounds per game. In the first game at UAB, Khalifa led the 49ers in scoring with 17 points and was 4/9 from beyond the arc. Khalifa is not afraid at all to shoot the three-pointer so UAB’s bigs will need to play close when he is out on the perimeter. Now let’s get to those three keys to getting a blazer victory this Saturday:
- Defend the three
The first key to victory for UAB this Saturday is not to allow Charlotte to make a living behind the three-point line. When Charlotte is able to get comfortable making three point shots they are hard to beat…especially at home. The 49ers lead Conference USA in three-point field goal percentage averaging 37.4% per game. The Blazers did a good job defending the three in the first matchup where Charlotte was 10/28 from three for just 35.7%. Last game out for the 49ers against Rice they were able to make 7/15 of their three pointers for 46.7%.
- No turnovers on the road, please
The last two times UAB has played on the road they have done a great job at taking care of the basketball. In Bowling Green last Saturday the Blazers only turned the ball over 7 times against Western Kentucky. The previous road game before that was in San Antonio against UTSA and the Blazers only had 6 turnovers in that game. If UAB can take care of the basketball again this Saturday and limit itself to 11 turnovers or less they should come out on top.
- Do not allow the 49ers free throw opportunities
This key is going to be really odd for Blazer fans to realize, especially what happened in the first matchup earlier in the season between the two teams. Charlotte leads Conference USA in free throw percentage at 74.5% (UAB comes in at sixth shooting 73.1%). However, Charlotte has also attempted the least amount of free throws in the conference. On defense, the 49ers have done a good job not fouling with its opponents totaling just 355 free throws this year which is also the least amount in the conference. Back in December, the 49ers were able to get to the free throw line just 17 times but only converted 10 of those. Can UAB continue to play good team defense on the road?
Prediction: UAB 65 Charlotte 57 (if North Texas beats Middle Tennessee Thursday a loss would not be surprising giving the game would not mean much since seeding would be locked up before the game)
Check out the latest Blazer Victory Podcast HERE.