The Bronze Bomber fought in Birmingham this past Saturday night, but Sunday afternoon we had two other heavyweights slugging it out — this time on the hardwood. UAB and Middle Tennessee reminded Conference USA why they have represented the league in the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons as the game came down to the final shot and the Blue Raiders escaped 66-64.
The Blazers had the visiting team on the ropes all game, but JaCorey Williams hit the game-winning shot with 4.4 seconds to go. Chris Cokley and William Lee led the Blazers with 22 and 17 points respectively and pushed around one of the best front courts in the conference.
With the win, Middle Tennessee clinched the regular season title and the number one seed in the conference tournament. UAB is still jockeying for position as far as seeding goes, and with that we turn to the final two regular season games of the season.
UAB welcomes the two teams from Florida to Bartow Arena for the last regular season games of 2016-17. The Owls of Florida Atlantic on Thursday night and the Panther of Florida International will come to town on Saturday night.
With the way the Blazers played Sunday afternoon, two wins here would carry some serious momentum into the CUSA Tournament, which is just over a week away. UAB should be favored in both of these games and will be looking to seek a little revenge on the Panthers for a shocking road loss earlier in the season. As disappointing this season has been for most fans, two wins this week could be a huge difference in making some postseason noise and repeating the one-and-done like last year.
Sunday afternoon showed Conference USA that these Blazers still have the talent to play with the leagues best, and that this team still has one run left in them. They had the best team in the league — who has now won every conference game by double-digits but two — on it’s heels the entire game. Don’t think for a second that this team forgets how it felt to walk off that court last year after Western Kentucky upset them in the quarterfinals. They know that they have some unfinished business to attend to in Legacy Arena.
If the Blazers can get two wins this week they will be a 5, 6, or 7 seed come tournament time. The best case scenario would be somehow getting into the 6 seed and UTEP holding their position in the 3 seed.
Since the first round bye was out of the window a couple of weeks ago, UAB knew it would have to win four games in four days, but sometimes playing that extra game isn’t a bad thing. Look at Western Kentucky last year advancing to the semifinals, or Auburn in the SEC Tournament two years ago winning three games and advancing to the semifinals as well. Making a run in any kind of tournament is difficult, but once you win that first game, anything can happen.
This season for UAB has not gone as many would have expected, and like I have been saying all year, the hardest thing to do in sports is live up to expectations. Many fans, including myself, expected UAB to have a season like Middle Tennessee is having and be 25-4 and 15-1 in conference, but that hasn’t happened.
That doesn’t mean that this team isn’t talented, that they can’t beat anyone on any given day, and that they can’t find the madness of March we all love — they can. With two wins this week, I think this UAB team would love to show everyone that they do have one more run left in them.