I have good news and bad news for you all in this preview. The good news is UAB is still in 2nd place along with La Tech and ODU. The Blazers hold the tie breaker over the Bulldogs and can achieve the same against the Monarchs next week. The bad news is UAB is now 3 games behind MTSU with 8 games to play. Repeating as regular season champs is looking like more of a pipe dream as each game passes.
The Blazers will have 5 games at home in their next 8 which puts them in a great position to have their third consecutive 20 win season if they can maintain a clean sheet on the Southside from here on out. UAB’s most recent run of 3 or more 20 win seasons came when they put together 4 in a row from 2008-2011.
Briefly looking at last night’s game what we saw was a similar performance of the 54-52 win at North Texas. Unfortunately this time lady luck wasn’t on our side. UTEP forced UAB to beat them from the outside and the Blazer’s 6 of 20 shooting from behind the arc wasn’t quite good enough.
Cokley and Lee combined for 6 of 11 on two point shots and were never able to find the room to operate like they typically do. Mehinti’s 11 points were certainly welcomed but we know that’s not production we will see every night and UAB isn’t reliant upon it.
The Miners had a game plan that worked and UAB let them dictate the game in the paint all night. However, you can attribute this L to the missed opportunities on the free throw line. The Blazers were an uncharacteristic 9 of 18 from the charity stripe. That is terrible for a veteran team who are great free throw shooters.
The margin of error is now incredibly thin to maintain second place which hopefully we’ll result in increased motivation. A couple more losses could be the difference between the 2 seed in the C-USA tournament and the 8th seed. But don’t sweat it, pressure is fun …
Scouting The Roadrunners
Expect to see a similar game Saturday that you saw Thursday night in terms of possession shrinking pace and low scoring outputs. Both UTEP and UTSA rely on their defense to mask their offensive deficiencies. The Roadrunners may be small in areas and lacking in depth but they are very disciplined in their multitude of defenses they run. UAB will have to bounce back from one of their least efficient games of the season and produce one of their best.
UTSA ranks 351st which is dead last in all of college basketball in three point shooting percentage and they haven’t hit more than 5 threes in any C-USA game this season. The Roadrunners lone consistent offensive scorer is 6-foot-6 junior forward Jeff Beverly. He plays a below the rim old man’s game and is stingy on the offensive boards. He’ll likely get his offensively but he’ll struggle to contain UAB’s three headed interior monster.
In the back of my mind I believed UTEP had enough pieces that if all played up to their potential could sneak a win over UAB. This just isn’t the case for UTSA. They are in full rebuild mode under first year coach Steve Henson and UAB should be able to get what they want offensively. If the Blazers drop this one we should be relegated to the Sun Belt for eternity.
3 Things To Watch For
- Chris Cokley – UTSA doesn’t have a 7-footer like Willms to clog the paint and that should give Cokley room to operate and do his thing. This is a game he could go for 20+ if he is aggressive.
- Atmosphere – The Convocation Center will be a far cry from the historic Haskins Center. There will likely be just a couple thousand in attendance. However, the Roadrunners have won 8 of their last 9 at home. Maybe they’ll pack the house Saturday night?
- Pressure Defense – UAB forced UTEP in to a lot of turnovers in the second half Thursday night with their press. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ehsan and staff implement it earlier and more aggressively to set the tone Saturday.