January 1986 — Coming off NCAA Tournament appearances in five of the first seven seasons of the program’s existence, Coach Gene Bartow and the UAB Blazers looked to be well on their way to another exceptional year.
The Blazers entered Sun Belt play with a 10-2 record only dropping matches to ranked Duke and UNLV on neutral courts. Their out-of-conference prosperity continued as the Blazers won all four of their first Sun Belt games before dropping a close overtime struggle to the visiting Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Complex, 75-72. UAB suffered it’s first defeat at home that season and would look to avenge the loss nine days later in Bowling Green, Ky.
E. A. Diddle Arena — On the night of January 25, 1986, the 18th ranked UAB Blazers traveled to Western Kentucky for a much anticipated rematch. Coach Bartow would be leaning heavily that night on his domineering guard duo, Steve Mitchell and Jerome Mincy (The pair would go on to combine for over 1,000 points that season).
The Hilltoppers were bursting at the seams as Diddle hosted a record crowd of 12,370, which was the most ever since the arena’s seating reduction in 1980. WKU’s sports information director Paul Just was quoted as saying, “We’ve got ’em sitting everywhere“.
The two teams danced in Diddle all night. With the Hilltoppers leading 53-48 and with 12:39 left in the game, WKU’s Alabama native star center Clarence Martin had just received his fifth foul on a put back dunk. Much to the dismay of the 12,000-plus attending, fans began to heave promotional Mars Bars (VIDEO) at Coach Bartow and the UAB bench.
The game was halted and the UAB staff were considering exiting the arena in fear of a milk chocolate massacre. The game quickly resumed after a warning to the Hilltoppers over the PA system. Steve Mitchell and Jerome Mincy combined for 48 of UAB’s 75 points, but it would not be enough as Western Kentucky would go on to win 81-75.
The Blazers and Hilltoppers will meet for the 31st time this week and you should expect the chocolate bars to remain in the stands. UAB holds a 20 to 10 advantage in the series and defeated WKU both times they met as first-time Conference USA members last year.
Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. has made a lot of history since it’s erection in 1963 and it will open it’s doors to UAB’s nation’s longest win streak of 14 games this Thursday.
It’s been 10 years since the Blazers last visited the Hilltoppers. After UAB ended Western’s season 53-52 at the CUSA Tournament last year, I wouldn’t expect a warm welcome.