By Ken Cross
UAB’s 76-64 win over Charlotte on Thursday night saw the Blazers with an obvious game plan in getting the basketball into the post as the triplicate of Chris Cokley, William Lee, and Lewis Sullivan overpowering a hard-working 49ers squad that has no answer inside for teams they face with established bigs.
The trio combined to make 20-of-30 shots. Cokley led with a double-double of 26 points and 12 rebounds while Lee was in foul trouble early.
“Chris has continued his unbelievable play,” said UAB coach Rob Ehsan, in his third season as the Blazers coach, “His back has been bothering him so a couple of times I had to get him out of the game. I didn’t feel like he played 30 minutes but it is impressive to have 26 and 12.”
Cokley made his first nine shots as he went 10-of-12 from the floor. He took over the game early for UAB as he scored seven of the Blazers’ first nine points as he helped them stay in step with the 49ers, who aggressively took a quick 9-2 lead.
He did the same in the second half as he complemented Lee’s reverse layup with a pair of post moves on the inside to give UAB a 46-45 lead with 15:51 remaining. Charlotte would catch the Blazers once more at 50-50 on a layup by Andrien White and the 49ers got to within four twice down the stretch. Then, UAB extended the lead to as many as 14 late in the game with Cokley at the center of the scoring.
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“We know our strength is obviously in the inside and we thought it was today and Saturday’s game (vs. ODU),” commented Ehsan, “They’re as big as us – might be a little bit bigger so we have to get our guards shooting the ball better and playing with a little more confidence. We have done that in practice and now it needs to be brought into the games.”
Despite the foul trouble, Lee as a factor with 11 points and six boards in 22 minutes. It was his defense thought with three blocks and two steals that was strong in the process. Lee became the Blazers’ all-time leading shot blocker in last week’s win over UTEP.
“It was unfortunate that he had the foul trouble because I thought he was playing hard and he got those open looks and made the one that kind of pushed it over the edge,” said Ehsan, “His defensive activity around the rim – he affected a lot of shots and he blocked a couple but picked up a couple of fouls.”
Meanwhile, Cokley’s game has risen to another level as he came into Charlotte averaging 20.8 points, 9.4 rebounds as he shots 57.5 percent from the field over the last five games. He stuffed the stat sheet on Thursday with the 26/12 effort as he also got to the line, overpowering Charlotte on both ends of the floor.
“I think, as a coach, sometimes you take for granted what he is doing, but it’s unbelievable that he is 10-of-12 (from the floor and had 26 (points) and 12 (rebounds) in 30 minutes, which is a great game for Chris Cokley.”