After dropping two heart breakers at Western Kentucky and Marshall, the Blazers can ill afford any more let downs in pursuit of the conference title.
If you pan through the stats of each game you’ll see many things UAB did that would typically win them a road game. In both games they had more assists, rebounds, and had pretty decent shooting percentages. Despite doing those aspects of the game well, it was their late game offensive execution that ultimately did them in.
Western Kentucky outscored UAB 24-12 in the final 10 minutes and Marshall outscored the Blazers 10-2 in overtime. I think back two seasons ago when there were so many games that came down to the wire and UAB found a way to win. With arguably a more talented roster, this season UAB has lost all five games that were within two possessions with three or less minutes left.
I don’t have the answers or the secret to solving their late game struggles. All I know at this point is their margin of error to contend for a regular season title is now non existent. This week they’ll face two teams that are clearly inferior, and we’ll see just how well they’ll bounce back after last week’s struggles.
Scouting the Miners
A familiar foe returns to Bartow after UAB ventured out to El Paso last season. Behind a staunch defensive effort the Miners achieved the upset and sent us on a spiraling downward path that led to losses in five of the next six games. Hopefully we’ll be inspired to get some revenge Thursday.
UAB hasn’t lost to UTEP at home since 2014 and own an overall 6-2 record against the Miners in Bartow Arena. This year’s UTEP team is a lot like last year’s in that they are struggling with a 7-12 record. Their currently coached by Phil Johnson after Tim Floyd resigned in November following a tumultuous. The Miners have continued to be up and down since.
The Miners are led in scoring by Keith Frazier who has had recent stints at North Texas last season and SMU before that. He was a top 100 recruit coming out of high school but clearly has had an adventure of a career that’s had more lows and highs. Frazier is averaging around 12 points a game but has missed four of the last six games. Even when Frazier does play, predicting his output is like trying to win the powerball.
One player we do know we’ll need to scheme for is 7-foot-1 center Matt Willms who gave UAB a lot of trouble in El Paso last season. He’s the best scoring true center in the conference when he’s healthy and he has helped UTEP become the number one shot blocking team in the country with his rim protection.
In addition to Willms, keep an eye out for their leader and senior do-it-all guard Omega Harris who I swear has been at UTEP for 10 years. Harris is a drive first slasher, which is the type of wing that UAB has struggled with of late. We’ll be tested again with defending without fouling.
Sophomore forward Isiah Osborne has become UTEP’s best scoring option of late having scored 20 and 21 points in the last two games. He’s dangerous off the dribble and long at 6-foot-5. He’s hit five 3-pointers twice in conference play and will be a mismatch for us depending on who we have on the court.
This game is similar to the ones we had during our last home stand against Southern Miss and La Tech. UAB is clearly the better team on paper and will only lose if they beat themselves. I’d like to see the offense continue to do it’s thing, but the defense take a big step forward especially in terms of defending without fouling. It wouldn’t hurt to make an attempt at defending 3-point shots either.
3 Keys to Blazer Victory
- Don’t be shocked if for once Cokley has some issues getting to the rim in this game. If UTEP does one thing well it’s contesting shots around the basket. We’ll have to be a threat from outside early and often to open things up.
- An active William Lee will produce wins in most games — despite this past weeks results. We’ll need his interior defense against their big lineup.
- UTEP is ranked last in causing turnovers in the country. If we take care of the ball and continue to rack up the assists like we have of late, we could blow this thing open.