Scouting reports won’t be needed, and manufacturing motivation is unnecessary when UAB and North Texas meet with the NIT championship on the line at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:40 p.m. CT with the game scheduled for ESPN2.
The teams have met three times, with North Texas winning twice. North Texas outscored UAB 214-207 in the three meetings. UAB won the latest meeting, beating North Texas, 76-69, in the Conference USA Tournament semifinals.
They know and respect each other. And, in a way, they wouldn’t be at this point without each other.
“We knew coming into this tournament that we faced great competition, and we were prepared, and that's a credit to Conference USA and the schedule we played,” said North Texas head coach Grant McCasland.
Conference USA already has one postseason champion with Charlotte’s victory in the CBI. The conference will add another on Thursday night, and C-USA regular season and tournament champion FAU is playing in the NCAA Tournament national semifinals against San Diego State on Saturday. Five C-USA teams are a combined 17-1 in the postseason.
“Yeah, well, five teams in postseason and one loss so far, so that's a pretty good run, I'd say,” McCasland said. “Just a lot of quality coaches and great competition, right? Always makes you better. We did believe that we had one of the best leagues in the country, genuinely. We played a lot of teams, played a lot of great teams non-conference wise and a lot of different styles but competitively, guards, forwards, just a lot of great players.”
UAB scored 53 points, which is the lowest final total in Andy Kennedy’s three seasons as the Blazers’ head coach, in the team’s first meeting. Jordan “Jelly” Walker did not play in the game. In the other two meetings between the teams, the Blazers scored 79 and 76 points, with Walker combining for 52 points in those games.
Walker has not shot well in four NIT games. He is 18 of 68 overall from the field and 6 of 32 on 3-pointers. But he is 17 of 19 from the free throw line and has 13 assists and 12 rebounds in the last two games.
Next level Ty— UAB Men's Basketball (@UAB_MBB) March 29, 2023
5 steals#WinAsOne pic.twitter.com/1gAsE0A0EZ
Ty Brewer carried the offensive load with 30 points in Tuesday's win over Utah Valley. However, the 6-foot-7 senior was ineffective in two of the three games against North Texas this season. He did not score in the team's first meeting and had just two points in the C-USA Tournament game win. He did have 11 points, hitting 4 of 6 from the field and 2 of 4 3-pointers, when the teams met at North Texas.
"As far as North Texas, I know this game is going to be a roller coaster, but I feel that like we'll come out locked in and focused and ready to take care of business," Brewer said.
One of the unknowns in Thursday's game is whether UAB can take advantage of Abou Ousmane's absence. The 6-foot-10, 230-pound center has not played in the NIT while dealing with a family issue. In three games against UAB, he averaged 11 points and four rebounds per game. UAB center Trey Jemison averaged nearly nine points and seven rebounds in those three games.
"Obviously, the absence of Ousmane, that changes the dynamic of their team," Kennedy said. "He was an all-league player at that 5-spot, and now they have to have other guys step up, and to their credit, just like we have had different guys step up, they certainly have."
The Mean's Green's Moulaye Sissoko, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound sophomore, moved into the starting lineup in Ousmane's absence. He had 12 points and 15 rebounds in an NIT quarterfinal win over Oklahoma State, and seven points and six rebounds in the semifinal win over Wisconsin.
Even with that wrinkle, there are few surprises between the teams.
"We know what they are going to do; they know what we are going to do, ultimately the champion will come out of Conference USA against two teams that have had a lot of battles," Kennedy said. "And it will be about the one that makes the most plays. They have got dynamic playmakers, as do we."
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