It has been quite a struggle as of late for the UAB Blazers (20-5, 8-3). After starting off the season 18-2, the Blazers had lost three of the last four games. Two of those losses happened at Bartow Arena, a place where UAB rarely loses. The fact that it was two consecutive losses at home for UAB made it even more worrisome. Coming off a surprising home loss to Marshall, UAB headed down to Hattiesburg to face rival Southern Miss (15-10, 5-6) for the second time this season.
At the end of a low-scoring first half, USM held a 22-21 advantage over UAB. The game stayed close for most of the second half until Howard Crawford's free throws put UAB up 53-51 with a little under three minutes left in the game. Southern Miss tried to come back by fouling near the end of the game, but UAB managed to keep the Golden Eagles at bay and leave Southern Mississippi with a 59-54 win over Larry Eustacy's team.
It has been a tough couple of weeks for UAB. After being seemingly cemented in the NCAA Tournament field, UAB had somewhat of a breakdown. Losing at Memphis certainly isn't what put them in danger of falling off the bracket. Two unexpected losses at home are what really make the Blazers worried. On ESPN's Bracketology, Joe Lunardi had UAB down at an eleven seed before the Southern Miss win. While a decent road win is good for RPI, it does not mean that UAB is safe.
Games against the current conference no.1 UTEP and no. 2 Memphis may become the deciding factor ahead of the C-USA Tournament in Tulsa. Losses in both of those games would probably put UAB squarely in the bubble. Without a C-USA Tourney win the UAB Blazers could really have an uncertain future if they can't get a few convincing wins over the "big" teams.
The other games left on the schedule for UAB are Houston at home, Central Florida away, and Tulane at home. All three of these games are must wins for UAB if they plan on staying near the top of the conference and away from the bubble. As we have seen, no game for UAB is a given at this point. They can't afford to treat any of these games as less important than the Memphis or UTEP games. If they do, they could find the top of the conference being out of reach even if they do get some big wins over the C-USA leaders.
UAB plays Houston this Saturday at Bartow Arena. The game starts at 7 p.m.