The 25th-ranked Memphis Tigers have already won Conference USA's regular-season title, and they have another accomplishment on tap for Saturday afternoon as they try to complete a perfect league slate when they welcome the UAB Blazers to FedExForum.
UAB is a middle-of-the-pack squad in C-USA, logging a 15-15 overall record and a 7-8 league ledger. The Blazers suffered a 74-70 home loss to UCF on Wednesday night, snapping what had been a four-game win streak for the club. UAB is just 4-9 on the road this season, but the team has won its last two ventures away from home, topping Marshall and Tulane in succession at the end of February.
While running roughshod through the rest of Conference USA this season, from a national perspective Memphis has flown under the radar, but the team's 26-4 overall record, 15-0 conference mark, is outstanding nonetheless. The Tigers have lost only one game since a mid-December setback to Louisville, that coming at Xavier on Feb. 26 (64-62). Since that loss, Memphis has collected two more wins, with its most recent coming in a tough 56-54 final at UTEP this past Tuesday. The Tigers are 16-1 at home this season.
These two teams met in Birmingham on Jan. 12, and Memphis had little trouble in rolling to a 69-53 victory. Memphis leads the all-time series with UAB by a 35-10 margin, and the Tigers have won the last 14 meetings since losing to the Blazers in the 2006 C-USA Tournament title tilt.
UAB does a solid job putting points on the scoreboard (72.2 ppg), but it's the team's effort at the defensive end that has cost it more times than not, as foes generate 71.1 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of .443 overall, .348 from 3-point range, .700 from the foul line. The Blazers, who connect on 43.4 percent of their total shots and 73.4 percent of their free throws, boast three double-digit scorers in the form of Rod Rucker (14.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Jordan Swing (13.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Fahro Alihodzic (10.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg). Rucker logged a double-double consisting of 16 points and 13 rebounds, Alihodzic added 15 points and five boards, and Swing chipped in with 10 points and seven rebounds, all of which went for naught as UAB suffered a four-point loss to visiting UCF the last time out. The Blazers made good on only 38.5 percent of their field goal attempts, missing 16 of their 22 3-point tries along the way, while the Knights connected on 44.9 percent from the floor, nailing 13 treys in the process.
You can't reach the lofty heights the Tigers have without performing well at both ends of the court, and that has certainly been the case as the team is averaging 74.5 ppg while allowing 64.1 ppg. Memphis shoots a rock-solid 47.7 percent from the field, knocking down 36.7 percent of its 3-point tries, while at the same time permitting just 40.1 percent of the opposition's total shots to find the bottom of the net, and that includes 33.7 percent from distance. Add favorable margins in both rebounds (+5.3) and turnovers (+0.7), and it's easy to see why the Tigers are enjoying the success they are at the moment. Joe Jackson (13.7 ppg, 4.8 apg), Adonis Thomas (11.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Geron Johnson (10.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.4 apg) are listed as the team's top scorers, but it was Chris Crawford who saved the day for Memphis in its recent win at UTEP, as he came off the bench to tally a team-high 15 points. Thomas (11 points, nine boards) was the only starter to reach double figures, the team as a whole hitting 42.3 percent from the field, but just 7-of-13 at the charity stripe. A total of 16 turnovers also hurt the Tigers, but a 38-25 rebounding advantage and the fact that the Miners converted only 3-of-16 3-point chances helped.