UAB won’t have to wait long for its first ranking in more than three years to get a serious test.
The 24th-ranked Blazers will try to validate their rise Wednesday night with a road win at Virginia in the programs’ first meeting since a classic NCAA tournament upset nearly 28 years ago.
After going into a week-long Christmas break with a 67-57 victory over then-No. 20 Butler, UAB (11-1) surged into the Top 25 for the first time since the end of the 2005-06 season.
The team has won 10 straight and will be seeking its first 11-game run since the 1993-94 campaign, and the Blazers will hope to carry the momentum from their latest - and perhaps most impressive - victory.
UAB also beat then-No. 25 Cincinnati 64-47 on Dec. 16, and played another strong defensive game in the Dec. 22 victory over the Bulldogs, who shot just 33.9 percent from the field.
“We beat a basketball team that just beat Ohio State and Xavier,” Blazers coach Mike Davis said. “We played a big-time basketball team. They may not lose another game this year.
“Our confidence has been sky-high since we beat Middle Tennessee (on Dec. 2).”
Since UAB slipped past the Blue Raiders 65-64 earlier this month, the Blazers have won four games by an average of 16.8 points, holding those opponents to a combined 33.5 percent shooting.
They also continue to use a balanced approach offensively after four players scored at least 11 points in the win over Butler. Junior guard Jamarr Sanders led the way with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists, while 5-foot-8 junior Aaron Johnson added 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
“It’s a great win for our resume,” Johnson said. “Butler has some good wins and for us to beat them, that sends a message that we’re competitive around the nation.”
The Blazers would still love to prove they can win a challenging road game. They have won at Jacksonville State and South Alabama, but lost 72-65 at Kent State on Nov. 14.
Virginia changed coaches after going 10-18 last season, and the Cavaliers (6-4) are hoping to show major signs of progress in their first season under Tony Bennett.
Their last three losses have come by a combined nine points, all against major-conference opponents, but this will be their first game against a ranked team under Bennett. The Cavaliers were 1-7 against Top 25 foes in 2008-09.
They improved to 5-1 at home with an 80-54 win over Hampton last Wednesday, with the guard tandem of Sylven Landesberg and Sammy Zeglinski combining for 27 points in limited minutes in the blowout victory.
Landesberg, a 6-foot-6 sophomore who leads the team in scoring for the second straight season, had 14 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, sparking his team to a 20-point halftime lead.
“Early on I thought that was the most unselfish our team had been,” Bennett said. “The ball was touching the paint - guys were making the extra pass and getting rhythm shots.”
The only previous meeting between Virginia and UAB was a notable one. The fourth-seeded Blazers upset No. 1 seed Virginia 68-66 in the regional semifinals of the 1982 NCAA tournament, beating a Cavaliers team led by star center Ralph Sampson.