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Monday, February 18, 2008

Birmingham News - You ain't seen nothing yet from UAB's basketball team

You ain't seen nothing yet from UAB's basketball team
Sports columnist Kevin Scarbinsky
Monday, February 18, 2008

When the UAB basketball team wins the Conference USA regular-season title next year - not if, but when - some people are going to eat their words. I'll take mine with a side of cheese biscuits from Jim'n' Nick's.

Why slither out on a limb and predict a championship so far in advance? Why contradict something I wrote last week about playing for second place as long as John Calipari stays at Memphis?

In Saturday night's one-point loss to the No. 1 Tigers, for 40 minutes against the best team in the nation, the Blazers were that good. Someday we'll all remember that night, not for the ending, but as a beginning.

UAB may have lost 79-78, but 73 of UAB's points were scored by players expected to return next season. If junior Robert Vaden can score 27 points against the best defensive team in the league despite a pulled groin, imagine what he might do fully healthy.

Chris Douglas-Roberts led Memphis with 32 points, including the game-winning 3-point play with 6.5 seconds left. He's just a junior, too, but if he plays in the FedEx Forum next season, it'll be for or against the NBA's Grizzlies.

Memphis has been so good for so long, it's easy to overlook that the Tigers are better than ever under Calipari. They're 25-0 this season, and they've now won 44 straight regular-season games.

That's the longest streak in major college basketball in three decades, and before you question whether the rest of Conference USA qualifies as major college basketball, go watch Wednesday's Houston at UAB game.

In the last week, each of them led Memphis at halftime.

In the next three weeks, both of them have a chance to play themselves onto the NCAA Tournament bubble.

The last major college team to win at least 44 regular-season games in a row was Indiana with 57 straight from 1975 into 1977. That streak included the last undefeated national championship season in 1976.

Memphis is headed in that direction.

As good as Memphis is, it was exactly, barely one play better than UAB. Only a champion could've come into that juiced atmosphere in that packed house and survived on a night when the promises of Mike Davis were backed up by the best UAB performance since the 2006 team became the last C-USA team to beat Memphis.

Memphis may have won the game, but UAB controlled the game for longer stretches. The Blazers led by as many as 11 points in the first half. The biggest lead the Tigers ran up was six points, twice, midway through the second half. Each time, UAB scored on its next possession.

UAB led by seven points with 2½ minutes left, with 2 minutes to play, with 1½ minutes remaining, but couldn't deliver the knockout, and you don't beat the champs by decision.

Davis tends to exaggerate when he talks about his basketball players and his basketball teams, and his exuberance can be irrational at times.

Not this time.

His 2008 team ain't bad, but he's been saying his 2009 UAB team is going to be really good.

It's not hyperbole.

Some of the rest of us just needed to see this year's team measure up to Memphis to see the light. Kevin Scarbinsky's column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Write him at kscarbinsky@bhamnews.com

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