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UAB upsets 16th ranked Tarheels, Jerod Haase defeats mentor Roy Williams, 63-59
As time was winding down, UAB saw what was once a fifteen point lead dwindle down to just a single point separating the two teams with 43 seconds remaining in the contest. UAB fans were reminded of the November 21 game when UAB saw a 6 point lead late in the game disappear as the Blazers fell to New Mexico in a double overtime thriller.
“We have been in the situation before, but we didn’t close it out. This game, we got better as a team and we closed it out,” redshirt senior Robert Williams said about the experience that helped the Blazers tonight. He continued “I think that goes back to the Charleston classic. We played New Mexico, they were ranked, Nebraska and Temple that got us ready for this game… Almost wasn’t good enough this time. We had to pull it out.”
Jerod Haase’s squad jumped off to a fast start against his mentor Roy Williams, acquiring a 10 point lead in the opening ten minutes. The lead hung around ten points for the rest of the first half with the lead reaching as high as fifteen as Chad Frazier sunk two free throws to bring the score to 33-18. The first half closed with the Green and Gold on top 37-25.
The Blazers shot 40% in the first half, led by Frazier who shot 4-6 from the field, 3-4 from behind the arc, amassing 18 points before halftime. Frazier led all scorers with 25 points adding 4 rebounds, 3 assist and a steal to fill out his stat sheet.
“[Frazier] provides so much for our team; in the second half he managed the game very well,” Coach Haase said about his junior guard. “His scoring is going to be important. So is managing the game, getting other guys involved and playing like a point guard is supposed to and I think he is making big strides towards that.”
The second half the Blazers came out slow as North Carolina opened the half on a 7-2 run, shrinking the Blazers lead to seven. With 2:35 left in the contest, North Carolina guard Marcus Paige drove the lane, and suck a layup that reduced the once a fifteen point lead to just two, 54-52. Then senior Rod Rucker was fouled on a drive to the basket, and he converted on the hoop plus the harm gave the Blazers back the momentum and a five point lead.
Then with 43 seconds remaining, Paige once again scored a layup, this time getting fouled by Rucker, as Paige hit the free throw to bring the score to 58-57 with slight edge to UAB. The Blazers then played lock down defense and sank 5-6 clutch free throws down the stretch to give UAB men’s basketball team its first win over a ranked opponent since 2009 when they beat #20 Butler. “We really wanted it tonight. We out rebounded them.” Williams said on his teams play, “The will we showed on the glass, diving on the floor for loose balls. I think we just got better as a team.”
The 63-59 victory came despite the fact the Blazers shot only 30.6% from the field. “We didn’t make very many shots. Some of that is the length of North Carolina making it tough to score around the goal. We did get some good looks,” Haase said on his teams shooting. “I feel like we came out of the half a little bit passive. We talked about coming out aggressive. I think we came out just trying to hold on, but down the stretch I think it became a grind. I was really proud of our attitude of that point, but obviously we didn’t shoot the basketball well, and a lot that goes to North Carolina and how they guarded us.”
Two Blazers reached double digits in scoring, the fore mention Frazier and his 25 and Rod Rucker added 11 points. Five more players scored for the Green and Gold with Fahro Alihodzic coming just two points shy of a double-double with 8 points and 13 boards.
“In terms of this team and this game, it was a grind in the second half. In the first half we were able to move the basketball and get some good shots and build up a little bit of a lead. We knew they were going to come back.” Coach Haase said about his team’s performance. “I told them that at half time. I’ve been in the other locker room too many times, I knew they were going to come out fighting and they did and our guys did the same thing. We were able to hold on to a game that could have gone either way down the stretch but our guys made enough plays to get it done.”
The Blazers used rebounding and free-throws to compensate for the poor shooting, as they converted on 22 of 28 attempts at the charity stripe. The Blazers once again dominated on the glass as they are second in the nation according to espn.com and they held a 52-37 advantage on Sunday. The home team had five different players grab 5 or more rebounds with ‘Foz’ grabbing 7 offensive rebounds as a part of his team high 13 boards.
This game signified the second meeting between Roy Williams and his protégé Jerod Haase, with this being Haase’s first victory. Haase said, “It’s tough, you have a huge win like the first thing you have to do is talk to Coach. It was emotional and is emotional. For him to come do this for me and this program speaks volumes about him.”
After two straight a victory over a top twenty-five team is a positive sign for Blazer faithful. Haase talked about the importance of the win after the game, “I think this is a step in the right direction. I think if we would have lost today it would have been a tough loss but we would have moved forward. This season and this program is going to be a journey that hopefully trends up.”
He continued saying, “This is a great win, an important win, an exciting win. But this isn’t a season defining win, a career defining win, it isn’t a university defining win, but it is a nice victory and I think it shows where we are headed as a program.”
The game wasn’t all positives. The Blazers continued to shoot the ball poorly. With 30% from the field, and 25% behind the three point line the Green and Gold could use some improvement on the offensive side of the ball. Not to mention the turnover problems that have plagued them all season as they added 12 giveaways in Sundays contest.
Haase said, “We will refocus pretty quickly… Bottom line is we need to get better as a team. Last couple of practice to be honest with you I am a little disappointed with some of the things we did. We didn’t play great in some ways. We need to be crisper offensively. It’s going to be fun we are going to enjoy the win but also we know it is a step in the journey not the final destination.”
UAB still has some tough non-conference games before heading into C-USA play. The Blazers will head to Boston to take on Northeastern on Saturday. The Huskies are battle tested after losing close games to powerhouses like FSU, Charlotte, VCU and defeating Georgetown. Their record is just 2-5 but they are a team that is better than their record states. They will also be heading to Baton Rouge to take on LSU Tigers along with four home games before taking on Middle Tennessee.
Photos by Sarah Adkins