The expectations were that UAB's Jelly Walker was going to play last Saturday in the Blazers game against North Texas. Those expectations were so firm, in fact, Walker was penciled into the official scorebook as one of the five starters for the Blazers in the key Conference USA game.

Unfortunately, after the teams got their initial warmup session, Walker said he wasn't ready to play, and an eraser was needed to take him out of the official scorebook.

Thursday night, the Blazers return to the court at Bartow Arena, this time with Louisiana Tech in town for another key C-USA game.

During his press gathering, the first question directed at UAB head coach Andy Kennedy was obvious.

Will Jelly be on the floor when the basketball is tipped off at 8 p.m. on Thursday?

"Jelly is still day to day," Kennedy said. "We'll just see. We've tried everything. We're so fortunate to be at UAB. There's some great doctors right here in the backyard, literally. He's seen everybody, and everybody has cleared him. Now it's kind of up to his ability to handle the pain. He's got to figure that out."

Some would suggest that game planning against UAB takes more time for the opposition when Walker's availability is truly a game-time decision. While that's true, it also takes more time for Kennedy and his staff to install a game plan for the Blazers.

Walker's minutes can be replaced. What Walker brings to the team, however, can't be replaced by just anyone. The nation's second-leading scorer is a unique player and a unique talent.

"You don't know every day — is he playing, is he not playing," Kennedy said. "We're going through that. It changes everything. I'm not as dumb as I look. I know a lot of the things we do on offense are done through Jelly Walker. If he's not out there, we have to completely change some of those things. I need to know as well, how are we attacking this thing. Hopefully, we will get that resolved sooner rather than later."

Kennedy was asked if that changes the way they practice, as well as the way they play during games.

"The only thing I think would equate to, and I always try to use, the football analogy," Kennedy said. "It would be like if the quarterback couldn't play. It's almost like Patrick Mahomes. He's got the high ankle. Is he playing, is he not? They probably won't know until he can tell them on Saturday or Sunday, so the offensive coordinator will have to have two game plans."

So, Kennedy will carry two different game plans into Saturday's pregame warmups. Only one of them includes what Walker brings to the Blazers. Both include KJ Buffen contributing in a big way.

UAB has lost five of its past six games, with the lone win coming at Louisiana Tech. In those six games, Buffen's production has fallen considerably. He's coming off a game where he failed to score a point for the first time in his two seasons at UAB. Through the first 14 games, he was averaging 11 points per game while shooting 57.5% from the field. Over the past six games, he's averaging seven points per game while shooting 30.2% from the field.

In half of those six games, he's scored five points or less. He's also fought foul trouble and has mentally taken himself out of some games recently.

"I'll tell you this, we were sitting at 12-2 and 3-0 in the league," Kennedy said. "Over the last six, of which we've lost five, we've done a breakdown of those numbers. It's night to day, not only with him but a couple of other guys, but really with him. He was playing like an all-conference player through our first 14 games. These last six have not been his best."

Kennedy leaves no doubt about what the Blazers need to get from Buffen.

"I've explained to him, in every step throughout his career, whether it be Ole Miss, prior to here, and even last year when he came in, he was a piece of the puzzle," Kennedy said. "We weren't so dependent upon his individual play as it related to how the team would fare. It changed. He came in. He got some preseason all-league votes. He's now one of the older statesmen on the team, he's got a lot of experience. We thought he would have the opportunity to be an all-conference player and the team was kind of built towards that. We need him to regain the way he was playing early in the year in order for us to finish this year right."

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