BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP)—With Chris Massie controlling the post and Antonio Burks constantly finding the open man, No. 18 Memphis remained Conference USA’s hottest team.
And its No. 2 seed.
Massie had 27 points and 11 rebounds and Burks had 11 points and 12 assists as the Tigers closed the regular season Saturday with their 11th straight win, 90-79 over UAB.
Memphis (22-5, 13-3) was denied a share of the league title because of No. 8 Marquette’s 70-61 win over Cincinnati and will be the No. 2 seed in next week’s tournament at Louisville.
“We did what we had to do,” coach John Calipari said. “What else could we have done?”
Not much down the stretch.
Memphis, which shot 73 percent in the first half, gave up most of a 23-point lead over the final minutes but still won its fifth straight by double digits. The Tigers haven’t lost since Jan. 25 at Saint Louis.
Calipari felt his team could win out when it began adding intense defense to its array of scorers.
“If we play like that every night out,” he recalled thinking at the time, “we’re going to run the table.”
Anthony Rice had 13 points for the Tigers, while Jeremy Hunt scored 11 and Rodney Carney had 10.
Memphis shot 63 percent from the field, including 9-of-17 from 3-point range, and had assists on 22 of 32 baskets to confound the nation’s leading team in steals.
“Everybody is playing unselfishly,” Burks said. “We’ve got several guys who can score and it’s hard for teams to try to stop five or six guys.”
Demario Eddins led UAB (16-11, 8-8) with 18 points, while Eric Bush and Morris Finley each added 15 and Gabe Kennedy had 13.
“They’ve got some great shooters,” said Bush, who scored all of his points in the second half and added five steals. “When they stand there and spot up and just shoot off a pass, that’s when they’re real good. And we gave them a lot of that.”
Memphis took an 84-61 lead on Clyde Wade’s layup with 4:02 left. Then, the Blazers closed with an 18-6 run as Bush hit three 3-pointers and two free throws over the final 2:39.
“I thought our guys never backed down,” UAB coach Mike Anderson said. “The last six or seven minutes, I thought our guys played the way I envisioned them playing.”
UAB used a 7-0 run to cut into a 16-point deficit early in the second half. Massie’s putback then kicked off a 13-3 spurt and the Blazers never got it back into single digits despite the late burst.
Memphis had its two highest scoring games of the season against UAB, including a 94-70 win on Feb. 15.
The Tigers took their biggest lead of the first half, 45-31, on the final basket. Wade bounced a pass to a wide-open John Grice off a turnover for a dunk with 1:05 left.
To Calipari’s relief, the shots continued falling in the second half—if not quite at 73 percent.
“I was really worried because I looked down and we shot 73 percent in the first half,” Calipari said. “And I went, ‘Oh my gosh. We made a lot of jump shots and I could see, if they start making and we start missing, this game gets crazy.”’
The Blazers were playing without reserve guard Jeff Collins, suspended indefinitely before the game for violating team rules.
The Tigers were without Billy Richmond, who missed his second straight game with lower back spasms.