- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

ST. LOUIS — With their quickness, athletic ability and depth, the Alabama-Birmingham Blazers like to live up to their nickname. They run and press, causing turnovers, fatigue and general disruption. UAB coach Mike Anderson borrowed the style from his mentor, Nolan Richardson, who had great success with it at Arkansas. For opponents, it’s known as 40 minutes of a very warm place.

But last night at Edward Jones Dome, fourth-seeded Kansas remained cool, exploiting the pressure with icy precision and beat ninth-seeded UAB 100-74 in the NCAA tournament’s regional semifinals. The Blazers were so ineffectual in stopping Kansas that late in the game some fan yelled out, “Forty minutes of what?”

The answer: A highly unpleasant experience for UAB.

Kansas junior point guard Aaron Miles had 13 points and 10 assists as he orchestrated the dissection of the Blazers, with help from fellow guard Keith Langford. “Aaron and Keith both played great,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.

The key “was being strong and attacking,” Miles said. “That was something Coach emphasized and we executed it. He told us if we beat the initial pressure, we’d get some easy looks.”

Meanwhile, the one who got hot was Anderson, who drew his second technical foul with 5:24 left by walking onto the court while the ball was still alive and was escorted off after the automatic ejection.

“That was a first,” said Anderson, who is in his second year at UAB.

The Jayhawks (24-8) will play tomorrow for a chance to go to the Final Four for a third straight season when they meet Georgia Tech, a 72-67 winner over Nevada.

Playing in front of a loud, partisan crowd, Kansas shrugged off the Blazers’ tactics and even outran UAB. The Jayhawks had 17 turnovers, but few were costly. Mostly they shredded the press or maneuvered inside for easy baskets.

Junior forward Wayne Simien, who has been slowed by a sore groin, had 19 points before halftime. A third-team All-American, the 6-9, 250-pound Simien had his way in the paint and finished with 30 points in 28 minutes.

“It was handling the initial pressure early in the game,” said Simien, who made an NCAA tournament-record 18 free throws in 20 attempts. “We’ve been preparing for them all week.”

Kansas in the first half shot better than 61 percent from the field and led by 15. Then it got worse for UAB as Kansas guard J.R. Giddens, a freshman, personally outscored the Blazers 9-7 during the first five minutes of the second half. UAB shot 32.4 percent for the game, going eight of 33 from 3-point range. Mo Finley, UAB’s leading scorer, was four of 19 from the field.

“It wasn’t a typical night for us,” Anderson said. “It seemed like we were a step off. When you don’t make shots, it’s hard to put pressure on like we normally do.”

UAB (22-10) was in the Sweet16 for the first time since 1982 and was just the third No.9 seed to get this far since 1985. The Blazers beat Washington in the first round 102-100, then shocked college basketball by upsetting Kentucky, the top-seeded team in the tournament 76-75 in the second round last Sunday.

That victory established the Blazers as a legitimate roadblock to yet another Final Four berth for Kansas.

Kansas came into the game presumably banged up. Not only was Simien nursing an injury, Langford will need knee surgery. Giddens (foot), who had 18 points, and center David Padgett (ankle) also were hobbling. None of the four had lately practiced much.

The injuries and supposed lack of depth were supposed to favor UAB, whose running and pressing tactics have exhausted far healthier opponents.

“I think the way we play, for people playing us in a setting such as a tournament, it’s pretty hard to prepare, I think,” Anderson said Thursday.

Self tried to prepare by scrimmaging eight against five. He wasn’t happy with the results during practice, but it paid off.

“Coach put six, seven, eight guys out there trying to simulate their speed and their pressure, what we might expect,” Simien said. “Then when we went against five guys out there, it seemed pretty easy.”

The Jayhawks turned the ball over on the first possession but pretty much did whatever they wanted in the first half. A 9-0 run at the end of the first half after UAB got within eight gave Kansas a 17-point lead.

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