UAB basketball wins ninth straight game

UAB guard Denzell Watts acknowledges the fans as he and his team celebrate their win over Iowa State in an NCAA tournament second round college basketball game in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, March 19, 2015. UAB won the game 60-59. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Courtesy UAB Athletic Dept.)– From a UAB point of view, there was a lot to like about the Blazers’ 104-82 victory over UTSA on Thursday night at Bartow Arena.

The Blazers shot 70 percent from the field, doubled up the Roadrunners, 48-24, in the paint, had a healthy 34-26 advantage on the boards and swatted away nine shots. All those things, however, took a back seat to the way the Blazers shared the basketball in the team’s ninth consecutive win this season and 18th successive at Bartow Arena.

“There are a variety of positives to look at,” said UAB head coach Jerod Haase. “I love the fact that we had 31 assists. Somebody said it was fun to watch the guys on the bench cheering for each other and excited for each other. The proof is in the pudding. The proof is in their actions on the court. When you have 31 assists – it shows that they genuinely have bought in to sharing the basketball.”

The 31 assists was a season high for the Blazers, surpassing the 30 in a win over USC Upstate, and the third-most in a game in school history. Ten different UAB players had at least one assist with Nick Norton leading the way with nine and Denzell Watts chipping in with six. That type of passing led to plenty of quality shots for the Blazers.

“We’re really good when we move the ball,” said Dirk Williams, who had a team-high 17 points and made 6-of-9 shots from the field, including 3-of-5 outside the 3-point arc.

Moving the ball and passing up good shots to get a better shot for a teammate is becoming natural to a UAB team that came to Thursday’s game averaging a league-best 18.9 assists per game.

“We’re building habits through practice,” said Haase. “The nice part is the vast majority of the team is the same from last year. So, all the work we put in last year carries over to this year. Our motion offense is very instinctive. It is an offense that has some continuity to it. We want guys to have as much freedom as possible. I think that’s the phase we’re in right now. They’re starting to understand the reads they have and make ones that are beneficial because they’ve seen it so much.”

It also helps when the Blazers are knocking down quality shots. Thursday’s field goal percentage was the third best single-game mark in school history and the seventh time in eight games the Blazers shot at least 50 percent from the field.

Once again, though, the Blazers had to overcome a sluggish beginning. The Roadrunners used the hot shooting of J.R. Harris, who had a trio of 3-pointers in the first seven minutes, to take a 20-14 lead with 13:33 left in the first half. UAB erased that lead with a 12-0 burst over the next four minutes, with five different players scoring, and never trailed again.

 

Harris stayed hot the entire game – making 11-of-15 shots from the field and 10-of-14 3-pointers – but he was no match against UAB’s balanced attack. The Blazers, who led by as many as 31 points in the second half, placed five players in double figures. Watts and Robert Brown each had 15 points and hit three 3-pointers. Watts was 6-of-6 from the field and didn’t miss a trey. William Lee had 13 points and Chris Cokley had 13 points. Hakeem Baxter, who had eight points, just missed double figures.

“Offensively, a lot things are clicking,” said Watts. “We’re moving the ball and getting a lot of people involved. Everything went well.”

Watts said he saw it coming after the Blazers’ practices after beating Middle Tennessee on Sunday.

“We had a really good week of practice,” Watts said. “Perfect practice makes perfect. It showed tonight.”

The Blazers have a quick turnaround with UTEP coming to Bartow Arena Saturday at 1 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.

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