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UAB men's basketball cruises past USC Upstate

Published: Dec. 17, 2015 at 5:17 PM CST
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The following is from the UAB Athletics Department:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Dirk Williams' first 3-point attempt on Wednesday night hit nearly every part of the Bartow Arena rim before dropping through the net. It wasn't just a friendly shooter's roll for the UAB swingman, it was also a sign of good things to come.

Williams, a junior college transfer, had his best game in a UAB uniform to lead the Blazers to a convincing 96-54 win over USC Upstate.

The 6-foot-5 Williams scored a season-high 22 points. He was 9-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers, and added six rebounds and one assist. Five of his rebounds came on the offensive end and he also played a big role in a defensive effort that limited the Spartans to 36.7 percent shooting from the field.

Obviously, he had his fingerprints in all aspects of the Blazers' 14th consecutive Bartow Arena victory, but it was his shooting that drew most of the attention.

"I talked to Coach (Jeff) Wulbrun before the game," said Williams, who missed all five of his 3-point attempts in Sunday's win over Seattle. "He told me to go out there with a clear mind. I got lost the past few games so it helped remind me to play hard."

Getting a good bounce right away also didn't hurt.

"It feels good to see one go in," Williams said. "I knew more would go in after that."

Williams wasn't the only Blazer on a hot streak during Wednesday night's game. UAB (7-3) shot 54.3 percent from the field overall, including a sizzling 66.7 percent in the second half. UAB also connected on 12-of-24 3-pointers, including 8-of-11 after halftime. Lionel Love and Thomas Smallwood punctuated the offensive outburst by each hitting a trey in the final two minutes.

"At the end of the day, it was fun to see the guys enjoying each other's success," said UAB head coach Jerod Haase. "That's a pretty neat deal."

The Blazers had a helping hand in their teammates' success. UAB dished out a season-high 30 assists, the third best single-game total in school history, on 38 made baskets. Nick Norton had 10 assists, marking the second time this season he's reached that total. All 12 UAB players in uniform scored at least one basket with Williams, Chris Cokley (17 points), William Lee (11 points) and Tosin Mehinti (10 points) reaching double figures.

"I think we had a good plan of attack against their zone and didn't settle for a lot of bad shots," Haase said. "I think there were only a couple of shots in the first half that I thought I'd really like to take back and move it one more time. So, the shot selection was good throughout, and I do think we have a capable shooting team from the outside and capable guys scoring in the paint as well."

Perhaps the only thing that disappointed Haase on Wednesday night was his team's defense early in the game. The Spartans (3-10) got plenty of quality shots in the paint early in the game and led by as many as seven points in the first five minutes. UAB used a 10-0 run, punctuated by a Denzell Watts 3-pointer, to take an 18-15 lead with 12:09 left in the first half. By halftime, the Blazers led, 39-31.

The Blazers quickly turned the game into a blowout in the second half. Norton opened the half with a 3-pointer and then assisted on back-to-back fast break layups by Cokley. The quick start was the beginning of a 22-4 run over the first eight minutes of the second half. USC Upstate never recovered.

"The second half, I thought our big guys did a good job of working early and not allowing the deep post touches," Haase said. "Defensively, I thought we played with a lot of energy, a lot of passion. I think the first four minutes of the second half we had seven deflections, and we had seven deflections the entire first half. That just showed the activity level that we had."

UAB also dominated on the boards, outrebounding the Spartans, 47-26. Lee and Mehinti each had 10 rebounds and Mehinti added five blocked shots.

The Blazers return to action Saturday at 6 p.m. CST when UAB travels to Tampa, Fla., to face USF from the USF Sun Dome.

The Conference USA Men's and Women's Basketball Championships are set to return to Birmingham for the second consecutive year, marking the third time the Blazers will host the event. The men's tournament, as well as the women's semifinals and championship, will be played at Legacy Arena in downtown Birmingham, while the women's first round and quarterfinal action will take place at UAB's Bartow Arena.

UAB ticket mini plans are now on sale and in high demand. The Holiday 3-Pointer includes games against Hiwassee College (Dec. 22), 2015 NCAA Tournament participant Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 29) and the Blazer's Conference USA home opener against Middle Tennessee (Jan 3). Lower level seats can be purchased for $36 ($60 value), or $24 in the upper level ($45 value). The Conference USA Season Pass is available for $119 in the lower level, (a savings of over $60) and only $79 in the upper level, ($56 off the regular price).

For more information on UAB men's basketball, follow the Blazers on Twitter (@UAB_MBB), on Instagram (@blazerhoops) or on Facebook (Facebook.com/UABMensBasketball). For more on all Blazer sports teams follow the official social media accounts of UAB Athletics on Twitter (@UABAthletics), on Facebook (Facebook.com/UAB.Blazers), on Instagram (@uabathletics) or on Snapchat (@uabathletics).