Going dancing: Haase takes UAB to NCAA Tournament in 3rd season
Jerod Haase has made the NCAA Tournament as a player and assistant coach — and now he’s headed to the big dance as a head coach. In his third season at University of Alabama at Birmingham, the former South Tahoe basketball standout has helped the Blazers to their 14th tournament appearance in program history and first since 2011.
UAB (19-15) earned a 14 seed in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament, and will face third-seeded Iowa State (25-8) in the second round in Louisville, Ky. on Thursday at 9:40 a.m. — the game will be televised on truTV. The Blazers secured the automatic tournament bid by winning the Conference USA Tournament championship.
“In the three years we’ve been here, we feel like we’ve put a lot of time and energy into building this up to where it is,” Haase said. “Making the tournament is such a big deal, and it’s a really special feeling for me.”
Junior guard Robert Brown leads UAB in scoring (13.1 points per game) and minutes played (32.2) as part of a balanced attack. Seven Blazers average seven points or more and nine see at least 17 minutes per game as part of an uptempo approach.
“That’s one thing that makes this team special and hard to coach against — we have nine guys right now that can really contribute in their own way,” Haase said. “It’s a very big strength — our guys are able to play as hard as they can and really stay fresh.”
Thursday’s second round game won’t be the first time Haase has faced Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg — the two met on the court as players during Haase’s career at Kansas and Hoiberg’s with the Cyclones. Fresh off winning the Big 12 Tournament, the Cyclones enter the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the nation — they’ve won five straight games, including three against teams ranked in the top 15.
“They’re a big-time team with a lot of big-time players, and we know we’ll have to play a near-flawless game to have a chance,” Haase said. “We don’t have to play perfect, but we have to play awfully, awfully well … we’re going to play aggressively.”
The Blazers earned an automatic bid in the 68-team field by winning three games in three days at its conference tournament. UAB entered the conference tournament as a No. 4 seed after a 12-6 record in the C-USA regular season. The Blazers beat fifth-seeded Western Kentucky and top-seeded Louisiana Tech before downing sixth-seeded Middle Tennessee 73-60 in the title game last Saturday.
“We lost six games in conference and all six we had a chance to win at the end, so we knew we were good enough to compete with anybody in the league — and we just put it all together at the right time,” Haase said. “There’s no question I thought we were one of five or six teams that had a chance to win it.”
Against Middle Tennessee, UAB used an 11-0 first half run to take a double-digit lead into halftime — the Blazers led by as many as 23 points on the way to punching their ticket. UAB’s first two games weren’t quite as straightforward — it edged Western Kentucky by one in the second round and needed overtime to beat Louisiana Tech in the semifinals.
“We played well all three games, but we also were a little bit lucky — we had some fortunate breaks and made plays at the right times,” Haase said. “There are a lot of good teams and a lot of parity within the conference — that was really typical of what the entire season was like.”
UAB capitalized on a hometown advantage during the tournament, which was held two miles away from its campus in Birmingham. The team received strong home support from its fans while providing a boost to Blazers athletics, which was still reeling from the shutdown of the football program last December.
“It was a really big deal and there’s no question it was an advantage,” Haase said. “Our crowd was great, and to be able to play here was a real shot in the arm.”
UAB began the 2014-15 season with a team made up completely of Haase’s recruits, a big step in his tenure at the school. Haase, who previously made the tournament with the Jayhawks and as an assistant coach at North Carolina, said earning the berth was an added bonus to the development of UAB basketball.
“I wanted the program to progress, and I think even if we would have lost in the first round of the tournament the program has progressed,” Haase said. “But with this, it really takes us a big step forward.”
Putting together a tournament run on the national stage would be another step for the former Viking and his Blazers.
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