Auburn, Ala.--UAB lost its head basketball coach, but still has the type of talent that helped Jerod Haase land a Pac-12 job and because of that will be the Blazers will be challenge for the Auburn Tigers on Saturday night, according to Coach Bruce Pearl.
Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CST at Bartow Arena where the 5-1 Tigers will take on the 4-3 Blazers, a team picked to repeat as champions of Conference USA.
“UAB will be our toughest challenge to date,” said Pearl. “It is a combination of the team we are going to play and the environment we are going to play in.”
First-year UAB head coach Robert Ehsan returned two of the top players in Conference USA in juniors Chris Cokley and William Lee. Cokley, a 6-8, 229 forward, is averaging a team-best 13.7 points per game and 5.4 rebounds. Lee, a 6-9, 209 forward, is the top rebounder at 5.6 per game while averaging 10.4 points.
Dirk Williams, a 6-5 guard, is averaging 11.3 points for the Blazers, who have a 4-3 record with two of the losses coming to ranked teams, Kansas and St. Mary’s of California.
“I am very excited about playing in this series against UAB,” said Pearl, whose Tigers defeated the Blazers 75-74 last season at Auburn Arena. That cut UAB’s lead in the series to 10-8.
“I think our fans appreciate it--from both schools--and its a renewal of a rivalry, a game that should be played,” Pearl said.
Auburn will look for a fourth consecutive win in the series vs. the Blazers. The last time Auburn played UAB in Birmingham was on Dec. 12, 1998 when the Tigers won 77-74 at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center.
“Looking back at last year a little bit it was one of our best wins because we beat a really good team, a really experienced team,” Pearl said.
“Our challenges are going to be to handle the physicality, and the environment because it will be really hostile, although I am looking forward to the fact that we will have a great Auburn contingency in Birmingham so it will have that tournament flavor and atmosphere.
“There is a chance that our youth will show in that game more than any to this date,” said Pearl, who added, “I am excited about it and know we have got our hands full.”
One of Auburn’s top scorers is freshman guard Mustapha Heron, who is averaging 16.2 points per game and a team-high 6.3 rebounds. Redshirt freshman forward Danjel Purifoy is also averaging 16.2 points and is No. 2 in rebounds at 4.5 per game. Purifoy's 3.7 assists per contest leads the Tigers.
Auburn’s other double figures scorer, freshman point guard Jared Harper, is averaging 10.5 points and 2.5 assists.
The game will be televised on beIN Sports.