Winning on the road has apparently been the easy part during the men's basketball series between UAB and North Texas.
The past nine meetings between the two programs have finished with the visiting team winning the game. UAB has won five of those games, including victories on back-to-back days in Denton during Andy Kennedy's first season as the Blazers' head coach. North Texas won the most recent meeting, knocking off the Blazers 63-52 on Jan. 21. The last time the home team won in the series came on Jan. 23, 2016, when UAB beat North Texas 78-57, at Bartow Arena.
"I just hope it continues Thursday," Kennedy said.
The Blazers' chance to extend the unconventional streak begins at tip-off on Thursday night at 7. North Texas has been solid at The Super Pit, compiling an 8-2 record, but the Mean Green (19-5 overall, 10-3 conference) does have C-USA home losses to FAU and Rice.
A win for the Blazers (17-7 overall, 8-5 C-USA) would be a huge step forward when it comes to working toward seeding for the Conference USA Tournament. Hopes of catching first place FAU and winning a regular season conference title are long gone, but UAB needs to put itself in a good position in the postseason tournament bracket.
"We're tied with Middle (Tennessee), and the team that's in front of us is North Texas," Kennedy said. "We're still very much in control of our own fate, but time's running out. It's a now-or-never mentality. We've got some areas we got to improve on and improve on quickly."
North Texas, with its deliberate offensive style and defensive tenacity, tends to expose weaknesses. They did just that in the win over UAB earlier this season.
"We were incredibly inefficient offensively when we played them, the worst in my time," Kennedy said. "We only scored 52 points, only made seven field goals in the second half, one 3-pointer. Granted, that was without Jelly."
Jelly Walker is back for the rematch. He played twice last week and showed the rust of being out for three weeks with a bruised foot. He said he's not 100 percent and doesn't think he will be any time soon. However, he has no plans on coming out of the lineup.
"Obviously, me being out for a while could have been a factor," Walker said of the combined 8 of 19 shooting overall and 4 of 19 on 3-pointers in the two games. "I felt like I was shooting the same shots I usually make and trying to make the same plays I usually make. To me, it looked like rust, like me being out (three weeks)."
The biggest concern going into Thursday's game, though, is avoiding turnovers. UAB is coming off a Saturday night when the Blazers committed 22 turnovers in a narrow victory over FIU. Walker had eight of those turnovers, and Eric Gaines had seven. Now, they are facing a North Texas team that not only makes it tough defensively but tests a team's patience with the deliberate offensive style.
"You can't get impatient, and it's hard to do because they play so late in the clock," Kennedy said. "You can't get frustrated. Just because they are playing tempo, you can't come down and try to shoot the ball immediately. They're not going to give you a lot of shots. If they get offensive rebounds, you could be on the defensive side for a minute-plus. You've got to do a good job on the glass."
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