BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of the opening of UAB's Bartow Arena, and during that time it has mainly been a house of horrors for the USF Bulls.
This time was more horrific than usual, as USF blew a 13-point lead in the final six minutes of regulation and a four-point edge with less than 30 seconds remaining, eventually falling in overtime to the Blazers 78-77.
It was the sixth consecutive loss at Bartow Arena for the Bulls, dropping their overall record in the building to 3-13.
"We shouldn't have lost this game," USF coach Stan Heath said, shaking his head in disbelief. "We had it where we wanted it on the road. We just didn't get it done at the end."
USF (3-2) led 67-54 and appeared to be in firm control. Even after UAB (5-2) ripped off 10 consecutive points, the Bulls rallied by sinking four consecutive free throws to hold a 71-67 lead with 27 seconds left.
But after UAB cut it to 71-69, USF guard Dominique Jones made only 1 of 2 free throws, keeping the Blazers within one possession of a tie with 17 seconds remaining.
UAB guard Paul Delaney drove to the basket with 12 seconds left rather than attempt a tying 3-pointer, and Jones fouled him as Delaney scored. Not only did that enable Delaney to tie the score at 72 by making the ensuing free throw, but it was Jones' fifth foul, sending him to the bench for overtime.
Then in the extra session, with the Bulls clinging to a 77-76 lead with 19 seconds to play, USF forward Aris Williams missed two free throws. Delaney was fouled five seconds later by Ajayi Mobolaji, and he made both free throws, giving the Blazers a 78-77 lead.
Guard Jesus Verdejo, who led the Bulls with 26 points, missed a contested jumper at the buzzer.
"For about 34 or 36 minutes, we were very good out there," Heath said. "It just seemed like down the stretch, we got a little careless with the basketball and had a couple of turnovers where they were able to get some scores. And then we had some defensive breakdowns where they got some shots off that we had guarded very well throughout the game."
Jones finished with 15 points and guard Chris Howard, who left late in the game with cramps, had 11. The Bulls made only 12 of 20 free throws.
Lawrence Kinnard had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Blazers, and Robert Vaden added 18 points and 10 rebounds. Delaney was held scoreless in the first half but rallied for 16 after intermission.
"I think our guys will learn some things from this," Heath said, "but I'd rather learn it with some wins rather than a loss."