BIRMINGHAM – This time there was not the one possession finish to grasp on a sliver of silver lining. This time, UAB got whipped for the final 30 minutes in a 63-52 Conference USA loss to North Texas at Bartow Arena.
While the search for answers continues for Andy Kennedy and his team, maybe there is a solid reason for a skid that reaches five losses in the past six games.
“I’ve been challenging my team; we are one of two things,” said Andy Kennedy. “I really only think there’s two things. We’re either overrated, or we’re underperforming.”
The answers from his players, Kennedy said, is that the Blazers (13-7 overall, 4-5 C-USA) are underperforming. Kennedy, whose team played for the third consecutive game without injured leader Jordan ‘Jelly’ Walker, indicated that it very well could be the other option.
“I was in that camp, as well, but we’re just not playing,” Kennedy said. “I thought our fight was pretty good. We don’t guard, with Jelly, without Jelly, we don’t guard. We can’t sit down and guard the ball. We can’t make a shot, had nowhere to go on offense.”
Maybe the 12-2 start simply put a mask on the team’s shortcomings.
Saturday’s frustrating outing came on a day that 5,109 fans showed up at Bartow Arena, creating a big-game feel at tip-off.
“Great crowd, I really appreciate people coming out and wanting to support this team,” Kennedy said. “As a guy, who’s got a lot of sweat equity here, it hurts my soul. It’s not good enough, it’s not good enough for the standard. I’ve got to figure out a way to get them better.”
Obviously, it’s been an offensive struggle for the Blazers without Walker, who injured his foot on January 11 against Western Kentucky. On Saturday, facing a North Texas team built on suffocating defense, it was magnified even more. UAB shot 36% from the field and made just 1 of 10 on 3-pointers.
Trey Jemison had some success inside, hitting 5 of 8 from the field, and Tavin Lovan scored 11 points with most coming in the paint. But steadily getting points from inside buckets is virtually impossible when the outside shots aren’t successful.
“The way North Texas plays anyway, they’re going to sit in that paint,” Kennedy said. “They really went to an extreme because we really don’t have anybody.”
North Texas (16-5 overall, 7-3 C-USA) took over midway through the first half and controlled the game the remainder of the way. The Mean Green hit 6 of 8 3-pointers in the first half, including one at the buzzer by Kai Huntsberry that gave them a 40-29 lead.
Kennedy said he drew up a play for an outside shot on the first possession of the second half. The Blazers shot an airball, and North Texas turned it into a bucket. The tone was set for the second half.
Part of the problem was KJ Buffen never really got involved. He didn’t take a shot in 13 minutes on the floor in the first half. In the second half, he missed all three of his shots. Eric Gaines led the team in points with 15, but he was 4 of 12 from the field, missed all five of his 3-pointers and had five of the team’s 13 turnovers.
Put it all together, and the frustration might have reached its highest point since the struggles began.
“It always stings losing at home, in front of your people,” Lovan said. “Losing on the road, it hurts, too, but seeing the crowd tonight and how we underperformed, we just got to get better. I didn’t like our energy today, our passion wasn’t there. We weren’t playing with enough poise. That’s including me, too, I had my spurts, everybody had their good and bad moments. As a team, as a collective, as UAB Blazers, we have to be better, top to bottom.”
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