The UTSA Roadrunners have lost two straight, and their capabilities on offense once again have plunged into some uncertainty.
But, ready or not, they will open play in the Conference USA phase of their schedule Saturday on the road against one of the league favorites, the UAB Blazers.
After making some progress through early December, the Roadrunners have been hit with adversity.
The progress they made during a 3-1 streak was scuttled on Dec. 15 when they had to shut down two players, including their starting point guard, to Covid-19 protocols.
In the aftermath, playing without playmaker and second-leading scorer Jordan Ivy-Curry, they lost by 18 points at home to UT Rio Grande Valley. A road game followed at Illinois State, where they fell by 17.
Covid issues within opponents’ programs forced postponement of UTSA’s next two games.
Our Lady of the Lake pulled out of a Dec. 22 contest at the Convocation Center. Then, the Roadrunners learned Tuesday that their C-USA opener at Middle Tennessee State was also postponed.
As a result, the team re-arranged its itinerary and practiced at home through Wednesday of this week.
Originally scheduled to play on Thursday night in Tennessee, the Roadrunners used the off day to travel into Birmingham, to complete preparations for their game against the Blazers.
Saturday, 2 p.m. — UTSA (6-6) at UAB (11-3, 1-0)
While UTSA is expected to have Ivy-Curry and reserve forward Aleu Aleu ready to play against the Blazers, they will be without reserve forward/center Phoenix Ford, who remained at home. He is in Covid protocols and is expected to miss the game against UAB and also a non-conference home game Monday against Dallas Christian.
Ford didn’t play at Illinois State as he prepared for the birth of his first child. Then, after his girlfriend gave birth, on Christmas Eve, he returned to practice for a few days, only to learn early this week that he would need to isolate, that he wouldn’t be able to play against the Blazers. UTSA coaches have communicated with Ford, and he says he’s feeling fine.
UAB, meanwhile, looked strong in its C-USA opener Thursday night. The Blazers shot 50 percent from the field and downed the UTEP Miners, 75-62, in Birmingham. After trailing early, UAB sprinted out on a 21-2 run, during which first-year UTEP coach Joe Golding was assessed two technical fouls and ejected. The Blazers finished the run up 29-12, and never allowed the Miners to get closer than 12 the rest of the way.
“UAB is just really good,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said Friday in a telephone interview from Birmingham. “I don’t know why they shuffled their starting lineup against UTEP. But they are, statistically, one of the best defensive teams in the country.”
Keys to victory
UTSA’s chances against UAB will hinge, in a lot of ways, on whether it can get good enough shots against a team that likes to pressure the ball. The Roadrunners, in effect, will need to take good shots and make enough of them to put pressure on the heavily-favored home team.
Having Ivy-Curry and Aleu back in the rotation will help.
“Aleu clearly had his best practice of the year a few days ago,” Henson said. “On Tuesday or Wednesday, he made a couple of plays back to back to back that were as good as any we’ve had in a long time. Just flying around, he blocked a dunk on one end, had a big tip in on the other end. I was really, really happy with the way he played.
“Jordan, I didn’t think he was real sharp the first couple of practices after the break. But he was really good yesterday and today. Everybody (on the trip) was with us today. We had a good practice today over at the main arena. So, I liked the way we prepared.”
C-USA in the NET rankings
On New Year’s Eve, UTSA is ranked 329th out of 358 Division I men’s basketball programs and 14th out of 14 C-USA teams, according to the NCAA’s daily NET rankings.
Teams in the C-USA are ranked as such: UAB is 50th, followed by North Texas (69) and Louisiana Tech (79).
Teams ranked in the 100s include Middle Tennessee (120), Western Kentucky (135), Charlotte (153), Rice (174) and UTEP (197).
Teams in the 200s: Florida Atlantic (210), FIU (215), Marshall (217), Old Dominion (220).
In the 300s: Southern Miss (311) and UTSA (329).
The NET takes into account game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses, according to an explainer at ncaa.com.