1. Familiar face
Best player and leading scorer for the UAB Blazers is Franklin, Kentucky native, Tavin Lovan. Lovan is a 6’4″ sophomore guard who averages 13.2 points per contest, to go along with 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and a team-high 1.6 steals per game. He shoots 55.6% from the field and 78.9% from the free throw line, but has hit just one of his eight attempted threes on the season.
Lovan began his high school career at Franklin Simpson High School where he is the all-time leader in both points and steals. For his senior season, he moved over to Hargrave Military Academy where he became a three-star recruit and was recruited by several schools, including Winthrop, Western Kentucky, USF, Toledo, and Miami (OH).
2. Tons of misses lead to tons of rebounds
While we saw in Kentucky’s last game, Lamar was one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the country, the Blazers have a similar shooting problem. UAB hits just 26.2% of their three point attempts, which ranks them 332 out of 353 teams in the country. Knocking down 22 of their 84 attempts this year, the Blazers have just one player who is a real threat to score more than once from the perimeter.
Fortunately for the Blazers, where there are a lot of missed shots, they capitalize by pulling in a lot of rebounds. While UAB grabs 43 rebounds per game, compared to Kentucky’s 40, 15 of them are offensive rebounds. The 15 rebounds on the offensive end per game for UAB makes them a top-15 offensive rebounding team in the country. With Nate Sestina out today and for the foreseeable future, Kentucky will need to make an active effort from all positions to crash the boards and avoid easy second opportunities for the Blazers.
3. Common enemies
While the majority of teams across the country have played at least six games, UAB has played just five and sit at 4-1 on the year. Due to the scheduling of the BBN Showcase, the Blazers share three common opponents as Kentucky in this early season. The game against Kentucky starts a tough stretch for UAB, as in the next 10 days, they face off with Kentucky, Texas, and Memphis.
The lone loss on the season for UAB came at the hands of the Wolverines from Utah Valley University in a 11 points loss. The Blazers followed that loss with a win over Mount St. Mary’s by the score of 58-51, and just three days ago, they knocked off Lamar 57-48. Three straight low-scoring affairs for the Blazers is a developing trend they’ll be looking to buck tonight in Rupp Arena.
4. “Conduct detrimental to the team”
Coming into this season, the UAB Blazers were supposed to be returning their best player from last season’s roster, in Zack Bryant. A 6’2″ junior guard, Bryant lasted just three games into this season before being dismissed from the team by Head Coach Rob Ehsan. While it isn’t clear exactly what Bryant did to get himself kicked off the team, the recurring sentiment on Twitter was that this was a shock to the fans and local media when the news broke.
Coach Ehsan released a statement on the matter, “On Sunday, Nov. 17, junior guard Zack Bryant was dismissed from the UAB men’s basketball program for conduct detrimental to the team. The UAB Department of Athletics wishes Zack the best of luck in his future endeavors and we remain focused on having a successful season.” Bryant was averaging 11 points per game in three games this season, after averaging a team-high 14.9 points, 3.9 assists, and 3.5 rebounds last year.
5. History of knocking off the Cats
With most smaller schools that Kentucky has played more than once or twice, the common theme is that Kentucky’s overall record against said school is decidedly in the Cats’ favor. However, that won’t be the case in tonight’s game against UAB. The Blazers actually hold a winning record of 3-2 versus Kentucky in their five all-time match ups. Two of the losses actually knocked Kentucky out the NCAA Tournament.
UAB won’t be scared when the players look up and see the bright lights of Rupp Arena, as they know their school has always given Kentucky fits. In the five previous encounters with the Wildcats, the games have all been decided by eight points or less. The first ever meeting was in 1980 in the UK Invitational Tournament, when Kentucky won 61-53. UAB got their revenge in 1981, ending Kentucky’s season in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament, 69-62. Fast forward to 2004 and the Blazers caused another Kentucky second-round exit with a 76-75 win over the Cats. In the 2006 NCAA Tournament, the Cats narrowly escaped a first-round loss in the 8 vs 9 match up, beating the Blazers 69-64. And lastly, in 2007, UAB beat Kentucky 79-76, as Robert Vaden poured in 33 points on seven made threes to beat the Billy Gillispie led Cats. Let’s hope tonight will break that trend and the Cats keep the lead up near the spread of 21 points.
Go Cats. Beat Blazers.