The 15th-ranked Memphis Tigers, looking for their sixth straight win, will visit the UAB Blazers on Saturday afternoon in the 10th annual Bartow Classic at Birmingham, Ala.
Saturday’s game will honor the late Gene Bartow, who started the UAB program in 1978 and coached the Blazers for 18 years. He led the Blazers to nine NCAA Tournament appearances, including a Sweet 16 trip in 1981 and an Elite Eight bid in 1982.
The featured attraction on Saturday is Memphis (7-1), a school Bartow coached from 1970-74 which now has the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. However, two of those freshmen are out as 7-foot-1 center James Wiseman is serving an NCAA suspension and 6-5 guard Lester Quinones is on the mend due to a broken right hand.
Wiseman, projected to be a top-five pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, is eligible to return on Jan. 12. Quinones, a versatile player who can fill up the stat sheet, is expected to return in two weeks.
Memphis freshman guard Boogie Ellis, a long-range shooter, took a hard fall in the Tigers’ most recent game, a 71-56 win over Bradley on Tuesday, and there is no update yet on his status.
“We don’t need more injuries,” Tigers coach Penny Hardaway said.
Even so, the Tigers are a deep team. Against Bradley, they started Ellis, 6-3 freshman point guard Damion Baugh, 6-7 freshman forward D.J. Jeffries, 6-9 freshman forward Precious Achiuwa and 6-10 senior forward Isaiah Maurice. Achiuwa is projected to be a top-20 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
But on a team searching for leadership, Maurice is Memphis’ only senior. Two other Tigers players to watch are sophomore guards Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax, who combined for 27 points off the bench in the win over Bradley.
“I’m trying my best to lead this team,” Lomax said.
The Tigers, who haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2014 or the Final Four since 2008, have that type of talent once they get Wiseman and Quinones back. Wiseman and Achiuwa are McDonald’s All-Americans, Jeffries decommitted from Kentucky, Ellis decommitted from Duke, and there’s also sophomore forward Lance Thomas, who transferred in from Louisville.
Meanwhile, the Blazers (4-3) have played well in defeat the past two games.
They lost 69-58 at then-No. 9 Kentucky on Friday, but UAB shot 8-of-16 on 3-pointers. UAB’s Tyreek Scott-Grayson, a 6-5 junior guard, scored a career-high 19 points. Teammate Jalen Benjamin, a 5-10 freshman guard, tied his career high with 19 points.
On Tuesday, UAB lost 67-57 to Texas. The Blazers’ Tamell Pearson, a 6-10 sophomore, had a breakout performance with a career-high 10 points.
The Blazers have won 20 games in each of the past two seasons but haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2015. There’s a proud basketball tradition at the school — 15 tournament bids since 1981. Yet, last season’s graduating class left UAB without going to the Big Dance.
UAB started this week ranked 18th nationally in offensive rebounds, which demonstrates this team’s grit.
Besides Pearson, Scott-Grayson and Benjamin, fourth-year UAB coach Rob Ehsan starts 6-10 junior forward Makhtar Gueye and 6-4 sophomore guard Tavin Lovan.
Gueye, who hit a game-winning 3-pointer with five seconds left against Troy earlier this season, is UAB’s only returning starter from last season. UAB’s leading scorer from last season — star guard Zack Bryant — was dismissed from the team after three games.
“Bryant was dismissed for conduct detrimental to the team,” Ehsan said in a statement. “UAB wishes Bryant the best of luck in his future endeavors.”
–Field Level Media