UAB coach Jerod Haase
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Basketball still carries much weight at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the Blazers' line of coaches proves as much.Former Memphis State and UCLA coach Gene Bartow launched the Blazers' program in 1978 and passed the torch to son Murry in 1996. Mike Anderson came along then after 17 years as an assistant under Nolan Richardson at Arkansas, finished by a short stint as interim head coach.In 2006, UAB landed just-fired Indiana coach Mike Davis. He won 122 games in six seasons, but his Blazers suffered some epic March flameouts and went 15-16 a year ago.That sent the school looking for a new coach, and it landed Jerod Haase. If you don't know that name, you know his former boss's name - Roy Williams. Haase played a substantial part in Williams' success at Kansas and North Carolina for 12 years.
This was not a low-profile hire."You're at the top of the food chain, you can be selective," said Marshall coach Tom Herrion. "He did a marvelous job for Coach Williams at Kansas and North Carolina. He was in a situation where he didn't have to take any job, and he got a good job."Haase will bring his Blazers into Cam Henderson Center tonight to play Marshall in an important game as far as sorting out the Conference USA standings. Tipoff time is 7 p.m.The Thundering Herd (12-15 overall, 5-7 C-USA) and Blazers (12-14, 4-7) are eighth and ninth in the conference order, but the picture looks a little better for tonight's winner.First, you can move the teams up a spot because of third-place Central Florida's postseason ban. Second, consider there will be five first-round byes in the 11-team C-USA tournament.Marshall is a full game behind Tulsa for the fifth spot, a half-game behind No. 6 Tulane and a half-game ahead of UAB. Houston, the Herd's next opponent a week from today, is another half-game back.So yes, tonight's game is pretty big, and so is the momentum Marshall gained Wednesday night with its 82-70 pasting of UCF. The 20th of February is not a good time to pick up your first "true" road win of the season, but nobody in the Herd camp is complaining now.The Herd riddled the Knights with season-high 54.2 percent shooting, bullied them inside with a 10-rebound advantage and held them to 43.1 percent from the floor."Outstanding performance. Our kids are resilient, they've done a great job," Herrion said. "We made shots early, we were energized. Defense created offense for us, we were tremendous in the open court. Our sharing the ball was really good and we got back to being a physical team."The Herd's assignment is to carry that over into tonight's game and fashion the team's first two-game winning streak since Dec. 1, the last of three wins in a row.A reversal of the 75-61 loss Feb. 9 at UAB would be a bonus. In a season of wasted road trips, that game ranks right up there on the ugly scale - UAB led by 16 late in the first half and 22 midway through the second.
As Herrion tells it, the Herd was "stuck in the mud." The Blazers got all the 50-50 balls, dominated inside and hit 9 of 16 from 3-point range. They also scored 25 points off 17 MU turnovers.Robert Williams, Preston Purifoy, Quincy Taylor and Jordan Swing all hit 3-pointers, but that was set up by strong inside play by 6-foot-5 forward Rod Rucker and 6-10 Fahro Alihodzic, both junior-college imports. Rucker scored 18 points and yanked down 10 rebounds."What's different [from a year ago] is they're getting mileage out of their two juco guys, front-court guys," Herrion said. "They're giving them great minutes up front. They shoot and stretch you at a lot of different positions, shoot a lot of 3s. It's a big weapon for them."Jerod's got them playing really hard. They outplayed us down at their place, there's no doubt about that."The Blazers suffered a six-game losing streak in January, including the first five games in league play. Since then, they are 4-2, including an 80-57 win over Rice a week ago.In that game, Swing pulled the double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Purifoy hit 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
BRIEFLY: In the Free Throw Envy Department, Purifoy leads C-USA in that category, hitting 91.7 percent. The league record is 92.2 percent by Houston's Zamal Nixon in 2010-11. MU's top shooter is D.D. Scarver, whose 80 percent props up the team's bottom-scraping 57.3 percent. UAB shoots 72.3 percent. ... With his 15-rebound effort against UCF, Dennis Tinnon has 602 in his career, becoming the sixth MU player to top 600 over two seasons. He has a chance to reach second on that list (Bob Burgess, 668), but has no chance to reach 1950s board machine Charlie Slack (1,058 in his junior and senior seasons). Tinnon has 28 rebounds in the last two games. ... UAB leads the all-time series 12-6, 6-2 in Huntington. In fact, the Blazers have won the last four at the Henderson Center, with the Herd last winning 62-57 on Jan. 19, 2008. ... After the Houston game, MU returns home to play Southern Mississippi on March 5, a Tuesday night.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@ wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.