|Memphis-UAB rivalry showdown fueled by melee|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 25 February 2009 13:27|
No. 5 Memphis' last visit to UAB's Bartow Arena had everything you'd want in a conference showdown - and some you wouldn't want. The Tigers (24-3, 12-0 Conference USA) are back again Thursday night still streaking and still dominating the league in a sometimes touchy and often competitive rivalry.
``When we're on the court, I've known and played against those guys,'' UAB guard Robert Vaden said. ``There's going to be some bad blood. There's going to be some trash talk and all that stuff. What game isn't there?
``Off the court, we're all OK. On the court, there's no friends between Memphis and UAB.''
The Blazers (19-8, 9-3) are the closest thing to a league challenger for Memphis. The Tigers have won 54 league games in a row since falling at UAB 2 years and 360 days ago when they were ranked No. 3. They also cruise down Highway 78 on an 18-game overall win streak.
In fact, they have won 26 of their last 27 at Bartow - the only loss coming 79-78 last February.
Oh yeah, that game.
Lawrence Kinnard made a short jumper that appeared to give the Blazers an upset win and prompted several UAB fans to run onto the court. Replays showed Kinnard didn't get the shot off in time, and officials waved off the basket.
Then UAB students and some Memphis players exchanged words. Fans heaved cups, water bottles, pompoms and at least one liquor bottle onto the court. Memphis player Pierre Niles slapped a fan.
The league did not penalize either team.
``They thought they were going to win the game,'' Memphis coach John Calipari said. ``If I'd been in the stands, I probably would have thrown popcorn, too. I don't think I would have thrown a bottle, but I would have thrown some popcorn.''
The student section was moved from the tunnel entrance after that incident and tarps were placed over both tunnels leading to both locker rooms.
``I don't expect any issues like that this time,'' Calipari said. ``If it's a close game and down to the wire, will they charge the court (after a win)? Yeah. If we win it, will they be mad? Yeah.''
Memphis outscored UAB 9-1 over the final 1:23 in the game and also won this season's first meeting 81-68. Antonio Anderson said he also isn't worried about another ugly postgame scene.
``It was just fans being fans,'' Anderson said. ``They were just upset they lost the game. That's old news. That's over with. We're past that.''
The Blazers can be forgiven if they have a little chip on their shoulder in a league where it's Memphis and everyone else. A win would boost UAB's NCAA tournament credentials.
It would do more than that, though.
``I don't think there is bad blood between the two teams,'' UAB coach Mike Davis said. ``I think it is more of the fact we are trying to close the gap between Memphis and the rest of the league. And I think Memphis knows we are closing the gap. Until you win on a consistent basis you can't close the gap.''
Tickets for the game at the 8,500-seat arena sold out by mid-afternoon Wednesday.
The Blazers are the league's top shooting team, while Memphis is yielding opponents the lowest field goal percentage in the league. UAB's Vaden leads the league in made 3-pointers while fellow guard Paul Delaney III has the highest shooting percentage among guards nationally.
Memphis has Anderson and high-scoring freshman Tyreke Evans as part of a talent-laden lineup.
``We're really excited,'' Vaden said. ``This is a chance for us to get a statement win. Everybody's looking forward to this one, all our fans, everyone in the community. We're going to come out and play our hardest and of course come out with a win.
``We've got a great atmosphere. People in Birmingham put a lot of emphasis on them. We know if we win we have a good chance to go to the tournament.''
The game might not have the same postseason significance for Memphis, almost certainly the only CUSA team that has a spot reserved in the NCAA tournament already. It still means something, though.
``UAB is always a rivalry game for us,'' Memphis forward Robert Dozier said. ``It seems like the minute we finish playing the team before UAB, the talk is automatically UAB vs. Memphis. It goes to show you how much this game means to this league.''