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Cougars Host UAB As Blazers Set Sights On C-USA Crown

UAB begins a crucial two-game road trip at Hofheinz Pavilion Saturday against the Houston Cougars as the Blazers set their sights on a Conference USA crown.

UAB downed UCF, 63-58, at home Saturday to set up a three-way tie atop the conference standings with Southern Miss and Memphis with three games to play in the regular season. The Blazers were able to bounce back from a loss to Memphis last week and post their fourth win in the last five games. Aaron Johnson led the way with 19 points and six assists while Ovie Soko logged a double-double of 13 points and 11 boards. Jamarr Sanders added a dozen points and eight rebounds as UAB managed to overcome a poor shooting second half (33.3 percent) to improve to 12-2 at home.

Houston continued its struggles in dropping a 69-58 decision at Memphis Tuesday. It was the Cougars' third straight loss and eighth in the last nine games. Houston made just 39.6 percent of its field goals compared to the Tigers' 44.9-percent shooting clip. Memphis took a six-point lead into the final period and outscored the visitors by five down the stretch despite shooting a shaky 36.0 percent from the floor. Houston still had a chance to make a game of it after pulling to within 57-55 but was held to just three points over the last three minutes. Freshman Alandise Harris paced the Cougars with 16 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Zamal Nixon and Maurice McNeil both had 11 points in defeat.

UAB has won two of the last three against the Cougars, including a 75-66 victory the last time they met in February of last year. The Blazers own a solid 7-4 mark in Hofheinz Pavilion and lead the all-time set by a 16-5 margin. Houston's most recent win in the series was an 85-65 home win on January 10, 2009.

The Blazers' offense normally packs a potent 1-2 punch behind the senior Sanders and junior Cameron Moore. Sanders leads the team in scoring at 17.9 points per game and in three-pointers with 74 on 38.5 percent shooting. Moore stands above most secondary scorers with a 15.6-point average to go along with a team-high 9.8 rebounds but he remains out with a broken hand. He's missed the last three games and his status remains unclear going forward. The duo is helped along by Johnson's 11.6 points per contest and Soko adds 9.2 ppg for further scoring depth. Johnson's 7.5 assists per game leads C-USA and stands second in the nation. Soko adds 6.0 rebounds to a 35.4-33.4 edge on the boards for UAB. Overall, the Blazers connect on 44.3 percent of their field goals and notch 69.1 points per game. The defense holds opposing teams in check to the tune of 62.5 points per contest and 41.3 percent shooting.

The Cougars have a host of steady contributors on offense and muster 68.7 points per game on 45.6 percent shooting from the field. McNeil leads the way at 13.1 points per game and a team-leading 7.6 rebounds while Adam Brown stands a close second with a 13.0-point average, though he netted just five on 2-of-9 shooting in Memphis. Harris contributes averages of 9.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, Nixon puts up 9.2 points per game and Kendrick Washington adds to the well-rounded attack with 8.6 points and 5.0 boards. Darian Thibodeaux leads the club in three-pointers with 51 on 42.9 percent shooting while Brown is close behind with 47 on a 43.5-percent accuracy. Opponents average 68.3 points on 41.8 percent shooting from the floor and Houston is narrowly edged by the competition in rebounding, trailing by 1.8 per game (35.8-34.0).

UAB needs to take great care in keeping its composure this weekend instead of looking forward to a potentially make-or-break matchup with Southern Miss next week. The Blazers still have a leg up on the Cougars even without Moore in what could amount to a defensive struggle in Houston.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UAB 65, Houston 62

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