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San Padre unkind to Blazers
The San Padre Island Invitational has given Jerod Haase’s basketball team an opportunity to gain experience in a tournament atmosphere which could pay dividends down the road come conference tournament play. However the tournament displayed some glaring weaknesses in the Blazers.
The Blazers continued tournament play Tuesday against Prairie View A&M. UAB faced a SWAC team that was picked preseason to win their conference. Prairie View’s roster consisted of 6 guys over 6’7, compared to UAB’s 1. The Green and Gold fell behind early, which in part was due to having 10 less rebounds during the first half. After the game, Jerod Haase talked about the importance of rebounds, “There is no question about it, in the second half we out rebounded them by one which is a real key to the game because after the first half we were down by ten. The ability to box out and then go get the rebound is big. They are an athletic team, a long team and we knew coming into the game that rebounding was probably going to be the key to the game.”
The Blazers fought back to win the game 76-70 led by Rod Rucker who tallied 25 points and 12 boards for his team; his second double-double of the season. Jordan Swing, Isiah ‘Hoopy’ Jones and Fahro Alihodzic added 10 points each to aid the Blazers to victory.
After Tuesday’s games, UAB headed to San Padre Island, Texas to finish out the tournament. They played an Illinois State team who was picked to finish behind Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Redbirds came in led by Jackie Carmichael who averages 16.2 points a game. UAB did a solid job holding him down, however, and Bryant Allen went off for 30 points. Jordan Swing had a solid game which led to his first double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 boards. The Blazers couldn’t overcome the unexpected output of Allen, and fell to the undefeated squad 77-65.
The third place consolation game was against a TCU team that has had problems scoring consistently. The Horned Frogs did not need much help scoring on this day as sophomore Kyan Anderson, who averages 7.4 points a game, dropped 35. Jordan Swing drilled a three pointer, which caused a score difference of one point. With 4 seconds left, Kyan Anderson sank both free throws to extend the TCU lead to 3. Jekore Tyler had an open look as time expired but came up short as the Blazers dropped their second consecutive game, 76-73.
The San Padre Island Invitational showed glaring weaknesses in the Blazer team. The lack of height plagued them against Prairie View, Illinois State, and TCU. Rod Rucker, who is 6’5, is the team’s leading rebounder with 8 per contest. The only player that gets substantially over 6’6 and gets minutes is Fahro Alihodzic who only averages 4.3 boards a game. The lack of height hurts the interior defense as well. UAB gave up 42 points in the paint to Prairie View, 30 to Illinois State, and 36 to TCU. UAB was out-scored in the paint in all three games. Robert Williams is a guard who typically battles against much taller opponents. Williams is a high energy guy who gives 100 percent every play. He doesn’t get much of the credit, but anytime you see a loose ball, you typically see Williams diving after it. Effort players are underappreciated but a necessary part of a basketball team, and Haase agrees, “[Williams] is tremendous; he is a warrior out there… He is a guy that makes coaches look good, you can say he missed some shots out there but he does a lot of things out there that we value greatly.”
The added quickness due to lack of size has been effective in some ways for the Blazers as they pressure defend and try to get points in transition. It has helped balance the scoring out as UAB had 5 go for double digits in the TCU game and have 6 players average over 8 points a game and 3 average over 10.
The second problem that the San Padre Island Invitational brought to attention was the Blazer’s inability to take care of the basketball.
Coach Haase and his staff designed great game plans against Creighton, and Illinois State to take their best players out of the game and out of rhythm, however, other guys came out of the shadows to hoist their respective team over UAB.
This leads to the final point: maybe the Blazers just don’t have the necessary personnel to be a great basketball team. This is only speculation and I hope that is not the case, but with solid game plans and execution being the only issue, UAB must decide whether the problem is the player’s effort or just a bad lineup. Haase spoke after the Prairie View game about effort, “I told them afterward that all the plays and defenses and everything else we talk about is fine and well, but if they are not competing and playing as hard as they possibly can, then nothing else is going to work. In the second half we found a way; it isn’t always going to be easy. I have never been on a team where the entire season we shot well and it was easy. So some games you have to fight through and grind.”
The three games UAB dropped, a usual nonfactor came out of the woods to drop a huge game, which is a positive sign that they can lock down players when necessary. However, in a dreary couple of years for Conference USA, and Memphis not looking to be as elite as they typically are, this would be the season for the Green and Gold to make a run for the C-USA championship.
UAB will continue its road trip this upcoming week highlighted by the game Dec. 1 against North Carolina at 5 p.m. CST where Jerod Haase will take on his former head coach Roy Williams.