I’d be doing the history of the UAB and Memphis rivalry a great disservice to attempt to chronicle in my own words the many memorable games between these two teams dating back to 1984. Twenty-five of the 46 games between the two took place before I was old enough to drive.
What exactly makes a great rivalry? Many factors come into play–geographical proximity, memorable games, and sometimes switching of allegiances.
The father of UAB athletics Gene Bartow had five head coaching stops before making his way to Birmingham. Bartow spent three years at Central Missouri State, six years at Valparaiso, four years at Memphis State (now Memphis), one year at Illinois, two years at UCLA succeeding John Wooden, and finally making his final stop at UAB in 1978.
To properly recount the series, I’ve put together what you might call a series scrapbook of articles, pictures, and fan accounts from the many exciting and sometimes lop-sided games. I’m sure I’ll leave out some great games, but what I’ve included are in my opinion some of the most historically important.
Because the two teams played consistently for such a long period, Blazer fans of different ages have varying emotional relationships with the rivalry.
I, for example, attended UAB from the fall of 2005 until the spring of 2009. During my time as a student my beloved Blazers went 1-8 against the Tigers. During that stretch I experienced one of the highest moments (06′) as a fan and conversely witnessed one of the lowest (08′).
Let’s have a look at some of the most memorable games in the series.
The First Game
Saturday, February 4, 1984 ¦ UAB 51 Memphis 53 OT ¦ Mid-South Coliseum
Below is an excerpt from a post from user MemphisBlazer on Blazertalk.com.
On February 4, 1984, Gene Bartow returned to Memphis for the first time since leaving the job in 1974. UAB was a program in its infancy and Memphis State as they were known at the time was a year away from the Final Four, their second. The first Final Four Tiger team was coached by UAB’s head coach, Gene Bartow. The UAB-Memphis series has been an intense rivalry and there are several games that will appear on this list of the best Blazer games ever. Both programs point to one man, Gene Bartow for some of their greatest memories. Bartow put both programs on the basketball map and both programs guard his legacy with loyalty and determination and bicker with each other about which program he holds dearest to his heart. This game was the game that started this great rivalry.
Coach Bartow and the Blazers traveled to Memphis to play this non-conference game for CBS national television. Memphis State coach Dana Kirk said that CBS gave him several choices for a television game and he chose UAB because of Bartow’s Memphis connection. Bartow was quoted as saying that he would rather not have played Memphis State because of the great feelings and friends he has in the Memphis area. However, the deal was too attractive for Bartow. UAB was to share in the TV money from the game and CBS promised UAB a national game the next year.
Going into the game, UAB was 17-5. The Tigers were ranked ninth in the country and had a record of 15-3. When the game began, the national TV audience saw a total of eight starters from the city of Memphis from both teams gather around the mid court for the jump ball. Memphian natives McKinley Singleton, Steve Mitchell, Jerome Mincy, Archie Johnson and Jack Gordon played for UAB. Memphis had Phillip Haynes, Andre Turner and William Bedford. Keith Lee and Bobby Parks were from schools located near Memphis. The Commercial Appeal reported that of 24 players that dressed for the game, 12 of them were Memphians. Archie Johnson was quoted as saying “There’s nothing we didn’t know about each other’s games that we hadn’t seen in high school.” The Memphis newspapers said of the UAB players:
“It would be easy to say that this is a game where five guys snubbed by the home team are looking for revenge, like a street gang that has lost it’s turf and wants it back. It isn’t that simple. Mitchell decided early for UAB. Mincy was just looking ‘to get away for awhile and be on my own’. Singleton also decided quickly in UAB’s direction. Still, he said ‘there’s pride, sure. In a way, we’d like to show that maybe the better Memphis team was the one that left Memphis.’”
As the game began, Gene Bartow was sitting on win #400, having just reached the milestone 2 days earlier in a game at Jacksonville. A crowd of 11,200 gathered at the MidSouth Coliseum for the “high school reunion game”. A handmade banner at the end of the court welcomed Bartow, reading “Clean Gene. We still Love You. Go Tigers”.
The game that ensued was a classic. The score was tied 13 times, including a 27-27 deadlock. UAB led by seven twice in the first half, but the Tigers kept coming back. In the second half, Memphis State went ahead 51-43 with 5:53 left. However, the Tigers went cold and would not score for another 10:46. In fact, the Tigers only managed three shots after that, but UAB stormed back on three long jumpers by Luellen Foster. The Tigers missed a chance to win the game in regulation when Andre Turner lost the ball out of bounds just before the horn sounded. The game was tied at the end of regulation 51-51.
In those days before the shot clock, overtimes were often a very boring affair in which one team passed the ball until time to take the last shot. This is what happened in this game. In the five minute overtime, neither team was bold enough to attempt to score. There were only four shots taken, one by Memphis State and three by the Blazers. With 3:23 left, UAB decided to kill the clock, with Steve Mitchell controlling the ball by dribbling around the middle of the court until around 2:30 left in the game. At that point, Bobby Parks caught Mitchell unaware and stole the ball from him. The Tigers then held the ball until they called timeout with under a minute to go. Memphis State then threw the ball inside to the All American Keith Lee who went up for the basket, but was fouled by McKinley Singleton with six seconds on the clock. Keith Lee hit both free throws to go ahead 53-51. It was the first time Memphis had scored in 10 minutes and 46 seconds. Steve Mitchell’s desperation 18 footer rimmed the bucket with one second left, and the Tigers won.
McKinley Singleton led all scorers with 14 points, with Anthony Gordon and Luellen Foster contributing 10 apiece. Keith Lee led Tiger scoring with 13 points. Memphis State would win the next five games and most of the games in the series. In fact, Memphis has beaten UAB more than any other team, but that has not dampened the series. UAB has pulled some big upsets over the Tigers and there have been some great games. The intensity will only increase over the next couple of years.
The First Win
Saturday, January 16, 1993 ¦ UAB 50 Memphis 47 ¦ Pyramid Arena
Below is an excerpt from a post from user TheGORILLA on Blazertalk.com.
It was January, 1993. The Blazers had dropped 5 straight games, a new school record. No team before or since has lost five straight.
It was around this time in the season that Gene Bartow showed why he was a great coach. After losing five straight, Bartow made drastic changes in the offense. He took a team who had scored over 300 points in three games and changed this up tempo team into a disciplined, patient offense. The first game the new offense was tested on was Memphis.
Coach Bartow was 0-6 against his old team and the Blazers traveled to Memphis to play a team that had won 9 of the last 11 games, led by Anfernee Hardaway. Bartow had Frank Haywood and Reggie Allen alternate playing man to man on Hardaway. Hardaway went 5 for 15 from the field for 17 points. It broke a string of 12 straight games that Hardaway had scored 20 points or more. On offense, the Blazers were hampered when Stanley Jackson picked up two early fouls and only played 18 minutes scoring four points, well below his 20.5 point average. Memphis led 43-38 with 10:53 left in the game.
The Blazers defense tightened up and the Tigers scored only (one) field goal in the last 12:28 of the game. Clarence Thrash put the Blazers ahead 49-47 on a dunk with 49 seconds to go in the game. Corey Jackson made one of two free throws with 14 seconds left, to make the score 50-47. Memphis got the ball to Hardaway who shot a three pointer that was short. Frank Haywood was fouled, but missed the front end of a one on one, and Memphis had one more chance with four seconds left. Another three point shot was short, and the Blazers won their first game ever against the Tigers 50-47.
The Beat Down In Bartow
Wednesday, February 16, 2000 ¦ UAB 102 Memphis 81 ¦ Bartow Arena
I often hear Blazer fans speak of the Murry Bartow era unfavorably, but it’s worth noting he is the winningest coach against Memphis beating the tigers 5-of-11 times they met.
His team’s win at Memphis (Pryamid Arena) in 1999 was one of only two occasions UAB has won on the road. The only other occasion was the win in 1993 mentioned above.
Thursday, March 2, 2006 ¦ UAB 80 Memphis 74 ¦ Bartow Arena
One of my Blazer fan claims to fame was being one of the thousands to storm the court that night.
Saturday, February 16, 2008 ¦ UAB 78 Memphis 79 ¦ Bartow Arena
Lawrence Kinnard’s would-be game winning bucket was waved off, but not before the student section had started to make it’s push onto the court. Once it was clear the shot didn’t count, the fans were pushed back into their section and the Memphis player’s attempted to exit the court. Then it got ugly. Watch the video …
Here are coach John Calipari’s comments on the events that took place as the Memphis players exited the arena. Current students may not realize why the student section was moved.
“They were wrong, but our response was wrong too,” Calipari said. “My only issue was our guys being smart enough to know, we’re creating our own happiness. Why would you let what they say do or throw — paper cup, (urine), beer, popcorn — have an effect on the happiness we’re going to have? You wish it didn’t happen, but just show maturity when it does.”