One missed shot and one reaching foul capped an improbable game of catch-up by Arizona as the Wildcats dropped a 72-71 decision to UAB in second-round action of the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off tournament at McKale Center.
UA trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half before turning the game into a tense affair of several minutes at the very end.
Arizona's Nic Wise missed a jumper with seconds remaining and the game tied at 71 apiece, and Jamelle Horne was called for a reaching foul on the long rebound -- an intentional grab called by the officials as Paul Delaney headed up the sideline for the other end. It sent him to the line, where he made the first of two shots to provide the winning margin.
The victory for UAB (3-0) earned a trip to Madison Square Garden for the tournament semifinals next week in Manhattan. Arizona (1-1) will play in NIT consolation action at a site to be determined.
Freshman Kyle Fogg's layup tied the game at 71 apiece after he grabbed a rebound off a missed three throw by Garland Judkins on the second half of a one-and-one.
The Blazers made 13 three-pointers in the game, clearly a major difference. UA hit four. Robert Vaden led UAB with 20 points, backed by Lawrence Kinnard with 16, Terrence Roderic with 12 and 10 from Delaney.
The Wildcats were led by 27 points from Chase Budinger, 14 from Nic Wise and 13 from Jordan Hill, who had a monster night on the boards with 22 to tie Ernie McCray at No. 8 on UA's single-game chart. McCray had 22 against Cal State-Los Angeles in 1958. His game helped UA build a big edge on the glass, 47-29.
Hill's 22 rebounds also set a new Preseason NIT tournament record, eclipsing the previous mark of 21 set by TCU's Paul Richard against LSU on Nov. 21, 1986.
Both teams were hot and cold from the floor, with UA finishing at 42.9 percent and UAB at 45 percent. UAB hit 13 of 30 three-pointers. UA was hurt by a modest 12 turnovers in the game where every possession mattered, while UAB had six.
Arizona opened its second half taking the ball inside, with a dunk by Fendi Onobun and layins by Budinger and Hill, but that six points off tough play was matched by two shots from Vaden and Kinnard from beyond the arc.
Minutes into the period, the Blazers had their 10th three-pointer and a 13-point lead, 52-39.
The Cats clawed back, fueled by better rebounding and outscoring the Blazers 7-1 in the next four minutes to move closer at 55-48 and wake up the crowd in McKale Center. Arizona had an 18-8 run later to make the game the tight affair it was at the close.
UAB's pace of play and Arizona's lack of any experienced depth to counter gave the Blazers a steady lead throughout the first half and they led at the break, 41-31
UAB drew first blood with a three-pointer from Vaden, and a pair of free throws a few moments later gave the Blazers a 5-0 lead out of the gate. But Hill dunked on a baseline move to break the ice for UA.
Kinnard dropped in a three to double the score, 8-4, but Budinger banked one in off a spin move to make it a two-point game at the first media timeout.
UAB wasn't shooting well, but getting plenty of shots, with 16 taken by half way point in the period. They heated up in the final 10 minutes, finishing at 50 percent from the floor.
Budinger dropped in a pair of three in the next minute to tie the game at 12 apiece. Both teams went two minutes without a score until Wise dropped in a jumper from the lane to put UA on top for the first time, 14-12, at 12:20.
Budinger lifted a short jumper from the baseline to push it to 14-12, but Delaney answered at the other end, and then the Blazers got a trey from Roderick to knot it at 16 each.
But UAB went on a 13-4 run over the next four minutes to push the lead to five, 25-20. Delaney and Vaden hit a couple of baskets each and Roderick and Kinnard added buckets. Arizona stayed close with shots by Horne and free throws by Wise and Budinger.
The Blazers stretched the run to 17-7 and took a six-point lead before Wise drilled a three to stay in reach at 29-23.
At the final media break in the half, Alabama Birmingham had the same lead, 35-29, with Vaden the high-point man with 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Budinger had 14 at that point, but little support other than Wise's eight markers.
Judkins beat a press for a lay-in, but Aaron Johnson stuck in a three just seven seconds later, indicative of the speed with which UAB was moving the ball down the floor.
In half-court sets, UAB moved the ball around until an open shooter was found. Roderick's shot after four or five passes with 22 second left gave the Blazers their final margin of the frame, 41-31. UA's Hill finished the first half with 11 rebounds, but was able to get just six shots for five points.
Arizona shot 39 percent in the half, notably just two of 10 from three-point range, while UAB hit seven of 14 from beyond the arc.
Arizona loses heartbreaker
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