GAME NOTES: Days after picking up their first Conference USA victory of the season, the UAB Blazers look for the same result as they host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Bartow Arena.
Southern Miss will be a very tough visitor as it comes in with a perfect 6-0 record in league action after clipping Tulsa, 62-59, its last time out. Although the game ended with a narrow three-point margin, USM held the lead for the final 12 minutes of action. The Golden Eagles shot just 39.0 percent from the floor, but they limited Tulsa to 34.8 percent shooting on the other end. USM is the third highest scoring team in the C-USA with 74.0 ppg and also the best defensive unit with an allowed mark of only 57.6 ppg.
After losing their first five, the Blazers finally notched their first C-USA victory on Wednesday by outlasting Texas-El Paso for a 78-72 overtime decision. Jordan Swing scored 18 of his career-high 24 points after halftime to lead four UAB players in double figures. Rod Rucker (18), Fahro Alihodzic (12) and Robert Williams (11) joined in with 10-or-more points apiece, while Rucker also grabbed nine boards and Swing swiped a career-best six steals. Coach Jerod Haase's team enters Saturday with a 9-12 overall record thanks to the win.
Southern Miss and UAB will be meeting for the 40th time in a series that dates back to 1979. The Blazers hold a 24-15 advantage, but Southern Miss has won four of the last six meetings. In Birmingham, the Blazers hold a 14-4 lead. Earlier this year, Southern Miss won, 74-59, in Hattiesburg.
Senior guard Dwayne Davis is pacing a very balanced USM attack with 13.2 ppg. Jerrold Brooks is the only other Golden Eagle with a double-digit scoring average at 10.5 ppg, but Michael Craig (9.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Jonathan Mills (9.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg), and Neil Watson (8.7 ppg, 5.1 apg) are all capable scorers. Watson is third in the C-USA in assists thanks to his excellent court vision and pass-first mentality. The collective effort is evident on the defensive end of the court as well. The Golden Eagles are also leading the league and the country in steals with 12.2.
As a team, the Blazers are scoring 73.0 points per game, but they allowing a shade more at 73.1 ppg. UAB is connecting on 42.8 percent of its attempts from the field, with the opposition hitting 44.6 percent. After trailing by a sizeable margin in its bout with UTEP, UAB used a 22-7 run, with Swing scoring eight and Rucker seven, to make it 50-50 with 6:08 remaining in regulation, but could not take the lead until Alihodzic's layup opened overtime. Swing leads UAB with 14.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest, also ranking third in Conference USA in free throw percentage (.847). Rucker is contributing 14.0 points and is sixth in the C-USA on the glass, grabbing 8.4 boards per tilt. Senior guard Terence Jones chimes in with 10.5 ppg.
The Blazers' win over UTEP was a good start, but the Golden Eagles will provide a much greater challenge. USM's depth will give it an edge over UAB, which will have trouble running and gunning against the visitor's stifling defense.
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