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Rue's Rant on College Sports in Alabama

March 13, 2010 2:54 PM

UTEP's Barbee should be Auburn's No. 1 choice

Tony Barbee photo2.jpgNow that Auburn has shown Jeff Lebo the door what kind of basketball coach will the Tigers hire?

According to Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs, the Tigers are looking for the right fit.

The "right fit" should be an up-and-coming African-American. That's what rival Alabama did when it hired Anthony Grant away from VCU last year and after one season it's apparent the Crimson Tide is close to becoming a contender in the Southeastern Conference.

At the top of Auburn's list should be UTEP's Tony Barbee (pictured right) and right behind him North Texas' Johnny Jones.

Both are proven winners. In four seasons at UTEP, Barbee's win total has gone up each year from 14 to 19 to 23 and to 24 this season when the Miners won the Conference USA regular season title with a 15-1 record in league play. Although UTEP was upset by Houston 81-73 in the C-USA Tournament championship game on Saturday, the Miners will be in the NCAA Tournament and could surprise with a run to the Sweet 16, enhancing Barbee's resume.

Barbee also is a solid recruiter, having established himself not only at UTEP, but as an assistant under John Calipari at Memphis. He might be able to convince the six players Lebo signed last November to still come to Auburn.

Jones has led North Texas to 20 or more wins in each of the last four seasons, including a record 24 this season while guiding the Mean Green to their second consecutive Sun Belt Conference title. He has ties to the Southeastern Conference as a player and assistant coach at LSU. He also is known as a good recruiter.

Of course, if Auburn can't lure either one of them to the Plains, then Jacobs might consider UAB's Mike Davis. After all a few years ago, before Lebo was hired, Auburn went after then-UAB coach Mike Anderson. For some reason, they couldn't work out a deal and Anderson remained at UAB, but eventually left for Missouri.

Whoever lands the Auburn job, when have the luxury of playing in a new $90 million arena, but at the same time they will be coming to the worst basketball town in the SEC.

Just something for the next Auburn coach to consider.

February 23, 2010 5:16 PM

Is Auburn Spending Money Wisely?

Gene Chizik reacts2.jpgListen closely and you can almost hear Gene Chizik and his coaching staff singing that familiar tune that reverberates at Jordan-Hare Stadium during the fall:

"It's great to be an Auburn Tiger. I say, it's great to be an Auburn Tiger."

Yeah, it is great, especially if you happen to coach football.

On the heels of an unexpected 8-5 season, including a victory against Northwestern in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day, and the signing of a top-five recruiting class, Chizik and his assistants have reaped a financial windfall.

Chizik has received a $200,000 raise, bumping his salary to $2.1 million. Not bad for a guy whose record as a head coach is still just 13-24. Remember, he was 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State before Auburn lured him away.

His boost in pay, however, wasn't as generous as the increase offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn received. According to a report in the Birmingham News, Malzahn received a 43 percent pay increase and will make $500,000 this year.

Also, Chizik and his nine assistants are set to make $4,131,000 this year.

That's almost as much as the combined salary total Alabama is shoveling out for head coach Nick Saban ($4 million per) and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart ($750,000 per after his salary was more than doubled recently). But the Crimson Tide did just win a national championship.

Obviously, the folks at Auburn believe Chizik and his staff have the Tigers headed in that direction. Although it will be interesting to see how they do in their encore season in 2010 with a slightly more difficult schedule and having to replace some key seniors, such as quarterback Chris Todd, running back Ben Tate and defensive end Antonio Coleman, the latter two who are projected to go in the early rounds of the NFL draft.

If Auburn continues to make strides and contends in the Southeastern Conference West Division in 2010, the Tigers' money will be well spent. But if they struggle (and they probably will), some people (like me) are bound to wonder why Chizik received a raise when there was no specific provision in his contract to get one after his first season.

Back in the day, you used to have to win a championship or at least come close to winning one before receiving a compensation hike.

Now, I guess you just have to look like one day you will. And we all know looks can be deceiving.
   

 

February 20, 2010 10:18 PM

Auburn Deserves Rep as a Bad Hoops Town

Jeff Lebo vs. UK.jpgWhen Auburn knocked off Arkansas 92-83 Saturday night, they actually had a decent crowd show up at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The attendance was listed at 8,312, a few thousand short of capacity, but still their third-best total for a home game this season.

I was pleasantly surprised because most of the time this season Auburn's arena has been near empty when the Tigers take the court. They are averaging only 5,868 spectators for their 15 home games.

Who can blame the fans? The Tigers have been mediocre at best this season. Their win against Arkansas left them with a 13-14 record overall, 4-8 in the Southeastern Conference. Besides that, they lost their first three home SEC games, even though they have rebounded to win the last three.

But a lousy team isn't the only reason fans stay away from Auburn home games in droves. Auburn simply isn't a basketball town.

In fact, ESPN.com columnist Pat Forde recently conducted a best-worst survey concerning the major conferences in men's college basketball and discovered that Auburn is the worst basketball town in the SEC.

As a former beat writer (back in the 1980s when Auburn went to the NCAA Tournament five consecutive years with the likes of Charles Barkley and Chuck Person), I can attest that the Tigers always have had difficulty generating fan interest for basketball.

Don't just take my word for it. I recently talked to former Auburn head coach Sonny Smith about Forde's column and here's what he had to say.

"I read that," said Smith, who coached Barkley and Person. "I don't buy that Auburn is the worst town, but it is under consideration. I think Starkville (Mississippi State) would have gotten the award, if they hadn't won more. Ole Miss would be up there too if it wasn't for the job (Coach) Andy Kennedy has done the last few years."

Smith, who does some color commentating on Auburn radio broadcasts and also does color on televised games in the Southeast, particularly the Atlantic Sun Conference, went on to explain why Auburn fans, especially the students, stay away.

"Way back when, Auburn had a reputation as a smaller school in a smaller town and the way the arena was set up students had to sit under the basket instead of the sidelines to watch a game, so students would go home on the weekend," Smith said. "That contributed to a lack of attendance."

That all had changed when Smith arrived in the early 1980s, but even then Auburn struggled to have much of a home-court advantage because it lacked a fan base.

"You could tell when we would have a big crowd," Smith said. "It's when we were playing Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, and sometimes LSU. But when he played Ole Miss, we'd get about 3,000 and when we played Mississippi State we'd get about 2,000, and nobody came when we played Vanderbilt. That's when Auburn got the bad reputation as a basketball town.

"Now with the school being so big and having $300,000 condos for the students to live in, the kids are staying on campus year round, but they still don't draw. The reason they're not showing up is a reflection on the how the team is doing. Winning would change that. Bigger crowds come when you're winning than when you're losing."

Smith has a point. Auburn sold out every home game during its run to the SEC title in 1999 when it set a school record with 29 wins under Coach Cliff Ellis.

That's a distance memory now that we're 10 years into the 21st century and seemingly the only sport Auburn folks care about is football. But Smith said you can't blame football for Auburn's basketball attendance woes. Birmingham News columnist Kevin Scarbinsky said as much in a column last week.

"It's true that Auburn is a football school, but it's not so much that it's a football school than it is that we're a football state," Smith said. "But if the basketball team was winning, the fans would come."

That brought me to the subject of Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo (pictured above). I asked Smith if he thought Lebo would be back for a seventh season next year, especially with the Tigers moving into a new $92 million arena.

"I think he deserves a year in the new facility," Smith said. "He's a very good on-the-floor good and he has a good recruiting class coming in. But with all his starters (except for guard Frankie Sullivan) leaving, there are some who think he should go too.

"As far as him staying, he needs to win some games down the stretch. But if the season ends on a bad note, it wouldn't be good."

My sentiments exactly.

 


 

February 20, 2010 9:15 AM

UAB Sitting Squarely on the Bubble

Mike Davis vs. Marshall.jpgTwo-and-a-half weeks ago, the UAB Blazers were riding high, off to the best start (18-2) in school history, unbeaten and in first place in Conference USA, and seemingly a lock for the NCAA Tournament.

Fast forward to Saturday night when the Blazers' host the Houston Cougars and are fighting for their NCAA lives.

That's what happens you lose three of your past five games to drop into third place in a conference regarded as a one-bid league.

I believe UAB (20-5, 8-3 in C-USA) is tournament worthy and I believe C-USA deserves at least two bids this season, but I am not on the NCAA selection committee for the field of 65.

So right now the Blazers are stitting squarely on the bubble and every game is a must-win. They got one of those Wednesday night when they gutted out a 59-54 win at Southern Miss.

"Our guys came into a tough place to play, played with a lot of heart and showed a lot of toughness and we were able to get the win," UAB head coach Mike Davis said.

Tonight against Houston they will try to snap a two-game home losing streak, their longest home losing streak since the 2004-05. With three of their next four games at Bartow Arena, including tonight, the Blazers need to protect their home court. If they can do that and win one of their final two road games at Central Florida or UTEP, that should be enough to earn UAB an invitation to the Big Dance.

Plus, the Blazers could add to their resume with a good showing in the C-USA Tournament.

But if UAB doesn't reverse its recent fortunes, the Blazers will miss the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season and that best start in program history will be the highlight of the season - even if they were to go on and win the NIT.


February 9, 2010 10:30 AM

Grant Hopes To Lock Down State Borders

DeMarcus Cousins yells.jpgWhen Alabama basketball coach Anthony Grant looks out on the court tonight at Kentucky's Rupp Arena during the Crimson Tide's Southeastern Conference game against the No. 3 Wildcats, he will see too freshmen who could have made a huge difference in his first season in Tuscaloosa wearing Kentucky jerseys.

Six-foot-11, 260-pound man-child DeMarcus Cousins from Mobile's LeFlore High School and guard Eric Bledsoe from Birmingham's Parker High have teamed with fellow freshman John Wall to make Kentucky one of the favorites to reach the Final Four.

Grant really didn't have a chance to recruit either player because he wasn't hired until late March, only two weeks before the late signing period in 2009. By then, Cousins (pictured right), who earlier had orally committed to UAB and later to Memphis, had decided to follow Coach John Calipari to Kentucky when he left Memphis. Bledsoe, who was uncommitted, decided he wanted to play alongside Wall.

Who could blame them? They didn't know Grant and Alabama's basketball program was in serious decline while they were in high school.

Perhaps, if Grant had been at Alabama a year or two earlier, he could have lured Cousins and Bledsoe to Tuscaloosa. At one time, the Tide had a high success rate for landing the top in-state talent, but they have only one blue-chip in-state player on their roster now -- sophomore forward JaMychal Green from Montgomery.

Grant hopes to change that in the future. He said as much during a media conference Monday.

"I think for every player, you go to the right situation for you," Grant said. "Certainly it's important to us to recruit the best student-athletes within our state and our region. Obviously we're going to take a look nationally to make sure we get our program where it needs to be, and that's what we'll do."

He is busy talking with high school coaches in the state in an effort to keep the homegrown talent at home.

"I've been pleased with what I've seen," Grant said. "Certainly I've enjoyed getting to know the coaches and building relationships with various people throughout the state. There are still obviously a lot of people that I still need to touch and get around to building those relationships with, but I've been encouraged."

This year is a down year for blue-chip talent in the state, forcing Grant and Auburn's Jeff Lebo to look beyond the state's borders for players. Lebo signed six out-of-state players in November, while Grant signed two -- four-star point guard Trevor Releford from suburban Kansas City, Mo and four-star shooting guard Charles Hankerson is from Miami.

Among the players on the Tide's radar for spring, according to Scout.com, are power forwards Ricardo Ratliffe of Central Florida Community College and Jon Horford of Grand Ledge, Mich.

But tonight, all Grant can do is look out on the court at Cousins and Bledsoe and wonder what might have been.

 

 

 

February 5, 2010 11:00 AM

Please Tell Saban Commitment Is a Two-way Street

Saban news conference.jpgAlabama head football coach Nick Saban climbed back on his sanctimonious horse earlier this week during his national signing day media conference, lecturing us about commitment.

Perhaps, it's because five-star recruit Keenan Allen, a wide receiver/safety from Greensboro, N.C., orally committed to the Crimson Tide in November, but changed his mind this week and signed with the California Golden Bears.

"I'm old-fashioned," Saban said. "I think a commitment is a commitment. We tell guys when they commit that we want the recruiting to be over or we really don't want them to commit. If you're not really ready to stop recruiting, then you aren't really ready to commit because committing means you are coming to that school. I would rather you go visit other schools until you're sure that this is what you want to do rather than making a commitment and then not feeling comfortable and wanting to go explore other opportunities.

"There is an old saying, 'If you're shopping, then we should shop.' It shouldn't be that way, but when guys make commitments and then don't stick up for them, then you kind of get stuck a little bit because there may be other guys that you didn't recruit, that you could have recruited, that could have actually taken their place.

"I wish there was a better way, but there is not. We'll just have to manage it and keep recruiting guys and do the best we can with them."

What Saban didn't say is that commitment is a two-way street. How many times have college coaches promised these young men the world, such as "you are our top choice at your position," "you will get to play early," and "I will be at the school until your career is over?"

Coaches fawn over these players and tell them how great and wonderful they are, anything to get them to come to their school. The pressure to get them to commit during their recruiting visit is intense and many players cave in to the pressure.

For the most part, these youngsters honor their commitments and sign with the school they have committed to. But please don't hold 17-, 18-, 19-year-old youngsters to a higher standards than coaches are willing to follow. Didn't Saban make a commitment to the Miami Dolphins, then changed his mind and accepted a job at Alabama a few years ago? And he was under contract. High school players aren't under a contract with their college until they sign their football letter-of-intent.

Sometimes, things happen beyond a recruit's control that causes them to change their minds, and sometimes they just tell coaches what they think they want to hear just like coaches tell players what they think they want to hear.

Alabama has benefitted from players flip-flopping. Brandon Ivory, a 6-foot-3, 335-pound defensive lineman from Memphis, Tenn., committed to hometown Memphis in early January, then changed his mind and signed with the Tide.

Why didn't Saban tell him to honor his commitment to Memphis? I'll tell you why. He believes Ivory can help the Tide win football games and another national championship.

Alabama also has recruited other players who have committed to other schools, such as Shon Coleman, a 6-7, 285-pound offensive lineman from Olive Branch, Miss., who committed to Auburn in April, but visited the Tide in January.

Why didn't Saban tell him not to come to Tuscaloosa and just stay at home because he already had committed to Auburn? Because he thought he had a chance to change the youngster's mind. At least Coleman honored his commitment and signed with the Tigers.

I'm old-fashioned, too. I wish players would stick to their words. I wish I had never heard of the term "decommit."

Saban is always talking about the process. Well, "decommitments" are an ugly part of the recruiting process just as coaches up-and-leaving a school after they have told a recruit they would be there is a detestable part of college football.

 

February 5, 2010 12:02 AM

Midterm grades for Tide, Tigers, Blazers

It's time to assess what we have learned about the men's basketball teams at Alabama, Auburn and UAB through the first half of play in their respective conferences and hand out their midterm grades.

Alabama Crimson Tide (13-9, 3-5 Southeastern Conference)

Torrance vs. LSU.jpgAlabama can't seem to catch a break. They head into the second half on the heels of  back-to-back one-point losses at Auburn (58-57) and at home against Florida (66-65) in the first meeting between new Tide coach Anthony Grant and his former boss, the Gators Billy Donovan. They also dropped a one-point decision to Vanderbilt (65-64) and suffered a close loss at home to Tennessee (63-57).

When it comes to winning time, the Tide finds a way to lose. Part of that is senior Mikhail Torrance (pictured right) is not a true point guard. He's having a fine season -- in the loss to Florida he had 22 points and five assists -- but in late-game situations, the Tide needs someone to break down the defense in the half-court and make a play. That's what point guards do.

If Torrance had a point guard to get the ball to him at crunch time instead of trying to run the offense himself, he would be more effective, but he has to try to do it all. Other teams know that and make sure Torrance isn't the one who's going to take the last shot to beat them. And since no one else is capable of making a play in the late-game situations, the Tide continues to come up short in close games.

With four of their next fives on the road -- at Ole Miss, Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi State -- and no more games remaining against LSU (two of the Tide's three SEC wins have come against the winless - toothless? - Tigers), the Tide could be headed for a losing season overall.

Grade: C

Auburn Tigers (11-11, 2-5 SEC)

Lucas Hargrove vs. Bama.jpgThe Tigers actually have been half good. Really, they have. They trailed South Carolina only 32-29 at halftime before losing 80-71; they trailed No. 14 Tennessee only 38-37 at halftime before losing 81-55; they trailed No. 4 Kentucky 39-26 at halftime, but rallied in the second half before losing 72-67; they led No. 18 Vanderbilt 43-32 on the road at halftime before losing 82-74; and they led No. 25 Ole Miss 41-38 at halftime before losing 84-74.

The reason Auburn is only half good is because the Tigers have half a team. Their backcourt trio of DeWayne Reed (16.1 points per game), Frankie Sullivan (13.2 ppg) and Tay Waller (12.6 ppg) is pretty good, but their inside game is non-existent. Forward Lucas Hargrove (pictured right) averages in double figures (13.2 ppg), but he's not a low-post player. That's why Reed, Sullivan and Waller have combined to launch 338 3-pointers (making 125, 37.0 percent).

The Tigers also get next to nothing from their bench.

Auburn's only SEC wins have come against winless LSU (84-80) and hard-luck Alabama.

No wonder head coach Jeff Lebo might be headed for the firing squad.

Grade: D

UAB Blazers (18-4, 6-2, Conference USA)

Aaron Johnson in mask.jpgA week ago, the Blazers were riding high. They were ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press poll, were undefeated in C-USA, following a rousing 65-55 victory against Tulsa, and were off to the best start (18-2) in program history.

But after a tough double-overtime 74-65 loss at home to UTEP that left the Blazers battered and bruised (point guard Aaron Johnson's nose was broken in the game and reserve center Kenneth Cooper suffered a concussion) and their annual hiccup at Memphis, 85-75, on Wednesday, the Blazers fell out of the rankings and suddenly find themselves in a third-place tie with Memphis in the conference standings, staring up at co-leaders Tulsa and UTEP.

Johnson, wearing a facemask (pictured right), and Cooper did play Wednesday, but they couldn't prevent the Blazers from losing for the 11th consecutive time at Memphis. UAB has not won a regular-season game at Memphis since Jan. 2, 1999.

Keeping Johnson healthy the rest of the way is vital for the Blazers. Although swingman Elijah Millsap is a leading candidate for C-USA Player of the Year, it's Johnson who is the heart and soul of the team. He's also the team's only point guard and that's why he leads the Blazers in minutes played (35.9 per game).

UAB head coach Mike Davis needs to right the ship in a hurry because C-USA is probably going to receive only two bids to the NCAA Tournament, although this season the league deserves at least three.

Grade: A- 

February 1, 2010 3:42 PM

Football Recruiting Obsession Mystifying

QB Phillip Sims.jpgI have a confession to make: I find this obsession with college football recruiting mystifying.

What is that makes people spend hours poring over commitment and prospects lists and watching video highlights of these high school football players? Don't they have anything better to do?

They simply can't get enough of it, waiting eagerly for signing day to arrive. It's Wednesday by the way, although the recruiting obsession freaks already knew that. And as soon as it is over, they will start honing in on the prospects list for 2011 -- if they  haven't already.

I pay very little attention to recruiting because if a player has been a star in high school doesn't necessarily translate into being a star in college. The landscape is littered with big-time recruits who became big-time busts in college, although I don't like calling these youngsters busts. They might have been great high school players, but turned out be just average at the next level -- if they were able to stick around.

Besides, I have better things to do than keeping up with where guys I have never heard of are going to college. These news conferences and television shows to announce the college of their choice are ludicrous. I say get them into college and let them actually make an impact on the field before they can attract some attention.

Of course, that kind of thinking is considered old school, especially with what's happened in the past decade. Football recruiting has become a multi-million dollar business thanks to web sites such as rivals.com and scout.com, plus ESPN and MaxPreps, with their star system of rating players.

And colleges are spending more and more money on recruiting. According to a report Sunday in The Birmingham News, Alabama spent $750,045 in football recruiting expenses (or $27,779 per signee) for 2008-09.

That figure might top $1 million this year, which would be astounding (or rather ridiculous in my view).

Alabama fans are not complaining because the Crimson Tide just won the 2009 national championship and needs to reload to stay on top.

Auburn's recruiting budget also has increased. That's one reason the Tigers are headed to a top-five recruiting class for 2010. 

Auburn picked up another highly rated recruit on Monday when 6-foot-3, 295-pound defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker from Warner Robins, Ga., chose the Tigers over Miami and Georgia. Rivals, Scout and ESPN rate Whitaker as a four-star player.

Alabama also will be in the top five thanks to the likes of Parade All-Americans Phillip Sims (quarterback from Chesapeake, Va., pictured above), Keenan Allen (defensive back from Greensboro, N.C.), Demarcus Milliner (defensive back from Millbrook, Ala.) and C.J. Mosley (linebacker from Theodore, Ala.).

With the kind of players Alabama and Auburn are going after, no wonder college football recruiting has replaced spring football practice as the No. 2 sport in the state behind the college football season. And national signing day has become like NFL draft day in Alabama.

Apparently, this football recruiting obsession is here to stay, so I might as well get used to it.

January 29, 2010 4:56 PM

Tide's Grant Steps Into Auburn Rivalry

Anthony Grant shouts instructions.jpgIt's not exactly like Anthony Grant is wading into the Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but the first-year Alabama basketball head coach will get his first taste of the Alabama-Auburn rivalry when the Crimson Tide visits Auburn Saturday afternoon.

The basketball rivalry is not as intense as the football rivalry, but it's still heated.

Grant understands, calling it a "huge game" because it is Alabama-Auburn.

"I'm looking forward to experiencing what I've heard about for several months," Grant said earlier this week.  "We'll be in a great atmosphere in their building in obviously a very highly-contested game."

The game has added significance for Alabama. A week ago, the Tide was on the verge of irrelevancy in the Southeastern Conference West race after three consecutive losses, but then Alabama upset Mississippi State 62-57 last Saturday to stop the slide and hand the Bulldogs their first conference loss. On Wednesday night, Alabama routed LSU 57-38, holding the Bengal Tigers to only 13 points in the second half.

Now, Alabama (13-7, 3-3 SEC) finds itself only a game behind division-leading Ole Miss (16-4, 4-2), entering a crucial part of its conference schedule. Beginning with Auburn, the Tide plays five of its next seven SEC games on the road, including visits to Ole Miss, Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi State.

That means the Tide cannot afford a slipup against an Auburn team that is only 1-5 in the SEC (its lone win came against LSU, the only team still winless in SEC play) and is 10-11 overall.

The Tigers would like nothing better than to knock off their arch-rivals. That's why they scheduled a reunion of their 1985 for Saturday's game.

Auburn's 1985 team that included Chuck Person, Chris Morris, Jeff Moore, Frank Ford and Gerald White won the SEC Tournament championship, becoming the first team to win four games in four days to capture the title. The Tigers capped that remarkable run with a 53-49 overtime victory against Alabama in the championship game.

Unfortunately for Auburn, those guys will be in street clothes watching instead of on the court Saturday.

Perhaps their presence will give the current bunch of Tigers the boost they need to pull off an upset. They need all the help they can get.

January 27, 2010 5:55 AM

UAB Leaves No Doubt It's Best In C-USA

Elijah Millsap vs. Tulsa.jpgIs there any doubt who is the best team in Conference USA this season?

Not any more.

Not after UAB 65, Tulsa 55 on Tuesday night at Bartow Arena.

The 25th-ranked Blazers (18-2, 6-0) are the only unbeaten team left standing in C-USA play, while the Golden Hurricane (16-4, 5-1) suffered their first conference loss.

The Blazers also look like a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Even if UAB splits its final 10 regular-season C-USA games, it will finish 23-7 with quality wins over Cincinnati, Butler and Tulsa. That should be enough for the selection committee regardless of what the Blazers do in the conference tournament.

UAB, off to the best start in program history, changed its recent script against Tulsa. Instead of overcoming a huge deficit (they came back from 24 down to win at SMU on Jan. 16 and 14 down at home to beat Southern Miss on Jan. 20), the Blazers built a big lead, squandered it and then regrouped down the stretch.

UAB led by as many as 18 points in the first half and held a 38-22 halftime advantage. The Blazers did it with their usual get-in-the-jersey man-to-man defense - Tulsa had more turnovers (14) than field goals (nine) in the half - and 55.2 percent shooting from the field (16-of-29) thanks to better-than-usual half-court offensive execution.

They also received a huge defensive lift off the bench from 6-foot-10, 260-pound reserve center Kenneth Cooper. After Tulsa's 7-0, 253-pound senior Jerome Jordan punished UAB's slender 6-8, 240-pound Howard Crawford, who's more of a small forward than center or power forward, for four quick points, UAB head coach Mike Davis sent in the more physical Cooper. He battled Jordan, denying him the ball and pushing him off the blocks. Jordan, the C-USA men's basketball Preseason Player of the Year, scored only two more points in the half.

But early in the second half with several NBA scouts looking on, Jordan began dominating Crawford and Howard. He led a 19-2 run that gave Tulsa a 46-44 lead with 6:16 remaining. Jordan finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.

Instead of getting rattled, the Blazers turned to Elijah Millsap, who is challenging Jordan for the C-USA Player of the Year award. Millsap's three-point play put UAB back ahead, then moments later he made thunderous one-handed dunk in traffic in transition - the most spectacular of his several spectacular assaults on the basket. He was fouled and his subsequent free throw gave UAB the lead for good.

Millsap (pictured above) finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

"We know we can win games that are real tight," Millsap said. "We know we can come back. We feel comfortable. We never get rattled."

UAB also made 19-of-20 free-throw attempts in the second half, most coming in the final minutes to preserve their seventh consecutive victory.

Now, that the Blazers have established themselves as the team to beat in C-USA, perhaps their fans will catch on. The crowd of 7,691 for the Tulsa game was loud and boisterous - although not as raucous as the crowd for the Butler game in December - but the arena was less than full.

Perhaps, the Blazers will sell out Saturday night when they welcome UTEP to Bartow Arena. This UAB team deserves better fan support.  

 
 

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