Reading between the lines is unnecessary when trying to determine what Thursday night’s visit from UAB means to the Florida Atlantic University men’s basketball program.
The program’s Twitter site calls it the “biggest home game in school history.”
That says a lot.
On the other side, though, UAB head coach Andy Kennedy and his players are taking a different approach. For the Blazers, it’s business as usual.
“I know you think I’m lying or something, but I treat every game the same,” said UAB guard Jordan ‘Jelly” Walker. “I think I said it at the beginning of the season, whether it’s Southern or West Virginia or FAU or North Texas, I try to have the same mindset every game. I try to come in and dominate and play as well as I can every game.”
That approach definitely begins at the top of the UAB program.
“It sounds like coachspeak, but you really have to live it,” Kennedy said. “And I have to live it, or it’s not going to convey to my players. You just got to stay in the moment, man. All we’re concerned about is Thursday.”
However, that doesn’t mean he’s asking his players to ignore the meaning of the game.
“Is it a big game? Sure,” said Kennedy of the game that will determine the early leader in Conference USA. “There are only two undefeated teams in Conference USA, and we’re both playing (each other) Thursday. Today, they are at 11 in the (NCAA Net rankings). Eleven is the highest of any current member in this league in (Net rankings) history. Big opportunity for us, but regardless of what happens, we then have to turn and play less than 48 hours later in a game that still counts the same in regards to which column it goes in. You just got to stay in the moment and just focus on the task at hand.”
Dusty May, a former UAB assistant coach under Mike Davis, is in his fifth season as the FAU head coach. He’s 78-57 at the school with a winning record in each of his first four seasons. This year’s team is clearly his best. The Owls are 12-1 overall, with the loss coming at Ole Miss in the team’s second game of the season. FAU is 8-0 at home, and road wins include Florida and North Texas.
The Owls win with strong defense and a balanced offensive attack. FAU is third in C-USA with 124 made 3-pointers, with seven players in double digits in made 3-pointers and five players averaging at least two assists per game. For comparison, UAB has three players in double digits in 3-pointers and two players averaging two assists or better.
FAU also has a capable big man in 7-foot-1 Vladislav Goldin, who averages 10.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. UAB’s Trey Jemison is one of the top post defenders in the conference.
“Trey’s presence against their big is important,” Kennedy said. “Both are big guys. We need him on the court. You got to be aggressive, but you’ve got to play smart.”
Kennedy said that KJ Buffen also needs to avoid losing minutes to foul trouble.
“KJ Buffen, I’ve said before, has probably been our most consistent performer,” Kennedy said. “One of the reasons he’s made the step up in productivity is simply because he’s on the floor. He’s not fouled as much. That’s very important to us.”
Our Thoughts & Prayers go out to The Bartow Family after the passing of “The 1st Lady” of @UAB_Athletics 🙌🏼— Andy Kennedy (@CoachAK13) January 3, 2023
To Honor Ruth Bartow, our Team will wear these shirts to warm up before our games on Thur & Sat #Family 🐉🏀🔥 pic.twitter.com/YALKsqysTo
The final piece of the equation for UAB on Thursday night seems simple on paper.
"We got to be consistent," Kennedy said. "We've shown we're very capable. We just got to show that for longer periods of time. I thought in our last outing against UTSA. We had about a 12-minute stretch when we were really firing on all cylinders. We got to be able to maintain that, to be more consistent with that, especially when you play on the road. Factor in a team that is as capable as FAU on an 11-game winning streak. We have to be on top of our game."
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