Chattanooga (4-7) at UAB (8-2)
Wednesday, Dec. 18, 8 p.m. ET
Bartow Arena (8,508) . Birmingham, Ala.
TV: GoMocs.com ($9.95)
Radio: ESPN 105.1 FM
Series record: UAB leads 9-2
Probable Chattanooga starters
G-Greg Pryor, 6-1, 195, FR (8.9 ppg, 3.0 apg, 1.7 rpg)
G-Gee McGhee, 6-5, 205, SO (12.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.2 apg)
G-Casey Jones, 6-5, 200, SO (10.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, .538 FG%)
*F-Z. Mason, 6-6, 235, SR (18.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.8 bpg)
F-Lance Stokes, 6-7, 225, JR (5.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.3 spg)
Key reserves: Martynas Bareika (6-5, 215, JR); Ronrico White (6-3, 170, JR); Eric Robertson (6-4, 200, SO); Alex Bran (6-1, 180, SO); T.J. Williams (6-8, 240, FR)
Probable UAB starters
G-Chad Frazier, 6-4, 190, JR (19.2 ppg, 5.1 apg, .405 3FG%)
G-Jordan Swing, 6-6, 200, SR (7.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.6 apg)
F-Rod Rucker 6-5, 220, SR (12.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.7 apg)
F-C.J. Washington, 6-8, 219, JR (14.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, .541 FG%)
C-Fahro Alihodzic, 6-10, 250, SR (9.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg)
Key reserves: Robert Williams (6-4, 210, SR); Tosin Mehinti (6-9, 213, FR); Denzel Watts (6-2, 207, FR); Preston Purifoy (6-5, 220, SR)
The opening tip
Junior Martynas Bareika was superb in Sunday’s 87-71 loss at Northern Kentucky. Unfortunately for Chattanooga, the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder’s 29-point performance wasn’t enough to make up for the absence of senior forward Z. Mason.
Mason, the team’s leading scorer (18.6 ppg) and rebounder (7.5 rpg), missed the game with a swollen and broken big toe, creating a gaping hole in the Mocs’ front line. As a result, the Blazers absolutely owned the inside, finishing with a 33-22 advantage on the glass while outscoring UTC 44 to 18 in the paint.
Mason’s absence created plenty of problems at the offensive end, forcing Chattanooga to rely on shooting from the outside. Needless to say, that didn’t work out too well. UTC shot 7 of 25 (28%) from beyond the arc, and, really, the only reason they were still in the game late was due to the squad’s exceptional free throw shooting-28 of 29 (96%).
If the Mocs, who could be without Mason once again, thought Northern Kentucky’s size was cause for concern, they’re in for an even bigger challenge Wednesday.
The Blazers, the top rebounding team in the entire country (48.4 rpg), are riding a four-game winning streak, which includes a 63-59 upset victory over No. 16 North Carolina, and they’ll provide probably the toughest challenge test for Chattanooga since its November 24 trip to UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
Not only does UAB have an exceptional guard in junior Chad Frazier (19.2 ppg, 5.1 apg), they also possess a powerful front court led by junior C.J. Washington (14.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and senior Fahro Alihodzic (9.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg). Senior Rod Rucker (12.2 ppg), a 6-foot-5 forward and the preseason Conference USA Player of the Year, is another versatile scoring threat for the Blazers.
Chattanooga will have its hands full even if Mason suits up. It’ll only make things that much tougher if the 6-foot-6, 235-pounder isn’t able to go.
“They have a great guard in Chad Frazier and a big kid named C.J. Washington, and they have Rod Rucker, who was the preseason conference player of the year. He is a tremendous talent and plays as hard as anybody in the country. It will be a big challenge for us.”
– Chattanooga coach Will Wade on facing the Blazers
Wednesday’s contest marks the 12th all-time between the two schools with UAB holding a 9-2 series advantage. … Chattanooga has been away from McKenzie Arena for the better part of the last month. Wednesday will be the final game of an eight-game stretch which consisted of seven road contest. The Mocs are currently 2-5 during that span. … Mason was named the College Sports Madness Southern Conference Player of the Week on Monday for his play last week. He scored a career-high 41 points and became the first Moc on record to put up a 40-and-10 performance, also collecting a game-high 12 rebounds. … Bareika is coming off a career performance Sunday at Northern Kentucky. The 6-foot-5 junior poured in a career-high 29 points, while setting new highs for field goals made (7), field goals attempted (14), free throws made (12) and free throws attempted (13). Bareika will likely take Mason’s spot in the starting lineup if he is unable to play against the Blazers.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.