Nov. 11, 2013
By Steve Irvine, UABSports.com
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. --- The message was simple every time that UAB men's basketball head coach Jerod Haase talked to his team during Monday night's Bartow Classic matchup with Rutgers at Bartow Arena.
"The word I used over and over during the timeouts was `grind,'" Haase said. "We have to keep grinding. It's not going to be pretty for us, we're not making every shot, but that's OK. If you are going to have a great season, you have to have games that you win by just grinding them out. There was never one second in the game where guys were frustrated. It was like `Hey, it's going to be OK.'"
It certainly was OK at the end when the Blazers were celebrating a 79-76 victory that moved UAB's record to 2-0 and dropped Rutgers to 1-1 in front of an enthusiastic crowd. It was not necessarily pretty, but pretty didn't have to be an option.
"I think the biggest difference in this game was our will," said senior Robert Williams. "I just think we wanted it more and that's what carried us."
Guys making plays at crucial moments didn't hurt either. Plays like a 15-foot jumper by senior center Fahro Alihodzic that gave UAB the lead for good with 2:50 remaining. Or slicing layups from Williams with 1:44 left and Chad Frazier with 56 seconds remaining to build the advantage to 75-69. Senior Jordan Swing also had two huge second-half 3-pointers that swung the momentum in UAB's favor.
But, perhaps the most important thing that the Blazers (2-0) did was control the backboards from start to finish. Rutgers was big and physical with a frontcourt that included 6-foot-9, 230-pound Kadeem Jack, 6-foot-9, 250-pound Wally Judge and 6-foot-9, 260-pound Greg Lewis. The Scarlet Knights were no match for a relentless group of Blazers on Monday night. UAB outrebounded Rutgers, 54-27, overall and won the offensive rebound battle, 22-5. UAB turned the offensive rebounds into 26 second chance points while Rutgers (1-1) had 10 second chance points.
"Our game plan was to beat them on the boards," Alihodzic said. "We killed them on the rebound side."
The plan worked out even better than Haase hoped.
"It was unbelievable," Haase said. "If there was one thing that I'm most proud of it's that. We just fought on the boards on the offensive end, on the defensive end. The guys were just unbelievable with their passion and energy to get on the boards."
UAB controlled the boards in the first half, outrebounding Rutgers, 26-13, but had trouble shooting the ball. The Blazers, who trailed, 37-31 at halftime, made just 11-of-32 from the field and missed all eight of their 3-point attempts. The Blazers did manage to score 10 second chance points and 14 of their points came in the paint.
The Blazers also had trouble on the defensive end, forcing just one turnover, and Rutgers scored 16 points in the paint.
Rutgers built the lead to as many as nine points early in the second half but the Blazers crawled back to within four points with Swing's 3-pointer cutting the deficit to 44-40 with 16:43 remaining. Swing's successful 3-pointer broke a string of nine consecutive 3-point misses by the Blazers. Four minutes later, Swing buried another 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one and Williams hit a follow shot to give UAB the 54-53 lead with 11:24 remaining.
The teams traded momentum swings until Alihodzic put the Blazers ahead with just under three minutes remaining by drilling a shot from just past the free-throw line with a defender in his face.
"I've been working on my jump shot," Alihodzic said. "That was a big shot for me. I had a lot of confidence, I let it go and it went in. It hyped up everybody going forward."
Rutgers hurt itself at the free throw line in the final minutes - missing five consecutive at one point - while UAB did enough at the charity stripe to hold off the Scarlet Knights.
"I'm really proud of the guys," Haase said. "The fact that it was the Gene Bartow Classic meant a lot to me. I thought you saw a lot of pride from the guys and lot of pride from the crowd that was here. That was a neat deal and a great way to finish the game."