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Denzel Collins Headed to the Big Dance

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Former Indian Denzel Collins and his University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers  win the Conference USA Championship and advance to NCAA – the big dance!

UAB Is Going Dancing After Magical C-USA Title Victory

The Blazers earned their first NCAA Tournament trip since 2011.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A relatively flawless afternoon ended with problems cutting down the nets for Jerod Haase and his UAB men’s basketball team. It was a problem that Haase didn’t mind, seeing how it came after a dominating 73-60 victory over Middle Tennessee in the title game of the Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championship at Legacy Arena at the BJCC.

“When we started cutting down the nets, I told C.J. (Washington) to start at the top, take about this much and go from there,” said Haase after directing the Blazers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. “He didn’t understand and I had to explain again and again and again. And then I had to get up there and really show him. That means it’s a pretty good day because we didn’t have a whole lot of problems on the court.”

No, the fourth seeded Blazers (19-15) didn’t have many problems during the 40 minutes on the game clock. Robert Brown capped off a strong tournament with 22 points, including four 3-pointers, five rebounds and four assists. He left with the C-USA Tournament MVP trophy but was happier with the championship trophy that the team took back to campus.

“At the end of the day, all that matters to me, all that matters to Ha Ha (William Lee) and Coach and the rest of the team is winning,” said Brown, who had the game-winning shot in quarterfinal victory over Western Kentucky and was the team’s leading scorer in a semifinal overtime win over top seed Louisiana Tech.

Pretty much everyone who stepped on the floor for UAB had a hand in Saturday’s win over the No. 6 seed. Lee took over in the first six minutes of the second half, scoring nine of his 13 points, and also added six rebounds and a blocked shot. Point guards Denzell Watts and Nick Norton combined for 11 points, nine assists and two turnovers. All nine players in UAB’s regular rotation scored. The Blazers outrebounded Middle Tennessee, 33-22, and had 21 assists on 27 made baskets with just eight turnovers.

All in all, a very thorough effort.

“We shot the ball well,” said Haase, whose team hit 51.9 percent overall from the field and 47.4 percent on 3-pointers. “The biggest thing was we defended physically. I thought our guys were emotionally vested into the game and I thought we were a physical team. I think we only gave up one offensive rebounding in the second half. I think we had the benefit of not playing four days in a row. We were able to wear down Middle as the game wore on.”

Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis said his team wasn’t tired after a surprising tournament run that began on Wednesday. But he came away impressed with a UAB team that beat his team three times this season.

“I really thought, no question, UAB played like a NCAA Tournament team today,” said Davis, whose team fell to 19-16. “Give them the right seed, they can win a tournament game. They had great guard play, their inside guys were terrific and they beat us in every aspect. We completely give UAB credit.”

Actually, for the first 10 minutes, it looked like UAB might be headed toward a game that required another fantastic finish. The teams each went on quick spurts early on and were tied at 16 with 10:20 left in the half. But Tyler Madison engineered an 11-0 run over the next five minutes to build some distance for the Blazers. Madison had five points during that period.

Middle Tennessee crawled back to within five points with just under three minutes remaining before Madison’s alley-oop dunk, which came on a nice pass from Watts, sparked a 7-0 run that ended with a 3-pointer by Watts with 1:22 left. The Blazers led, 37-26, at halftime.

UAB didn’t slow down in the second half, largely thanks to the early play of Lee. The 6-foot-9 freshman’s offensive contributions in the first five minutes of the second half included an alley-oop dunk after a halfcourt pass from Norton, a 3-pointer, a 17-foot jumper and a follow shot on a fastbreak.

Middle Tennessee never fully recovered. The lead grew to as many as 22 points in the second half and the party in the Legacy Arena stands began early.

Now the Blazers can take a breath and wait until Sunday afternoon to find out their first assignment in the NCAA Tournament.

By Steve Irvine,


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