By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - It has been at least five years since Alabama-Birmingham found itself in a position to compete for a league championship this late in the season.
UC's James White is fouled by Sidney Ball as he tries to put up a shot in the first half Wednesday night.
The Associated Press
Presented with that opportunity, the Blazers (16-6 overall, 9-2 Conference USA) took full advantage of it, breezing past the University of Cincinnati, 80-69, Wednesday night before a Bartow Arena record crowd of 9,312.
No. 17 UC (17-5, 8-3) has lost four of its last six games and is 4-5 since beginning the season with 13 straight victories.
UAB, which moved into a first-place tie with Memphis, ended an eight-game losing streak to the Bearcats dating back to 1996.
The Bearcats fell into a third-place tie with DePaul, one game out of first.
UAB is now 5-3 against UC at Bartow Arena.
UC's Tony Bobbitt, who had averaged 24.5 points over his last two games, was held scoreless for the first time since the Oklahoma St. game on Feb. 9, 2003. He fouled out with 6:29 to go.
The Bearcats, who trailed by as many as 16 midway through the second half, closed to within seven on a pair of Jason Maxiell free throws with 7:35 to go.
They had two chances to get to within five but Robert Whaley threw away a pass and Nick Williams committed a turnover, then fouled out with 6:45 left.
Moments later, Bobbitt was gone and the Blazers had the lead back up to 11.
UC scored the game's first eight points, repeatedly beating UAB at its own game by running the floor in transition and making four of its first five shots.
But just as the Bearcats squandered a 12-point lead in a hurry against Wake Forest on Sunday, their fast start was rendered meaningless in a matter of minutes by the Blazers, who tied the score at 12 with 14:08 left on a Gabe Kennedy basket.
UC cut through UAB's pressure in the early going, but eventually the Blazers' swarming defense took its toll, forcing the Bearcats out of their offense and leading to 11 first-half turnovers.
The score was tied at 18 when Donell Taylor's layup put the Blazers ahead with 9:23 to go in the half. UAB closed the half by outscoring UC, 25-12, to take a 43-30 lead at halftime.
The Blazers, who missed six of their first seven shots, began to connect on their 3-point attempts and repeatedly scored inside on the UC defense.
The Bearcats, who were a few steps slower than the Blazers for most of the night, converted only three field goals in the final ten minutes of the half.
Bobbitt didn't enter the game until the 14:17 mark of the first half and didn't take a shot until the 9:01 mark.
He left the game with three fouls with 3:32 to go in the half, having attempted only two shots. Point guard Nick Williams also committed three fouls in the first half, then picked up his fourth on the first possession of the second half.
UC made only one of 10 3-pointers in the first half.
The Bearcats have just two days to prepare for Saturday's rematch against archrival Louisville, which has lost four of its last five games.
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