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Branching out into the big time
Joe Jares
December 04, 1978
With former UCLA Coach Gene Bartow, brash Birmingham is starting at the top
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December 04, 1978

Branching Out Into The Big Time

With former UCLA Coach Gene Bartow, brash Birmingham is starting at the top

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Friday night's inaugural game, attended by 14,800 fans though it was televised locally, was a happy event. The Golden 100, boosters who had contributed $1,500 apiece to help UAB's program get started, gathered for pre-and postgame food and drink in a newly decorated Coliseum room. Reporters and VIPs received souvenir paperweights—Game 1 tickets encased in plastic. Fans wore buttons proclaiming I WAS THERE, UAB-NEBRASKA, NOV. 24, 1978. Mayor Vann proclaimed it University of Alabama in Birmingham Day in the city.

A victory on top of all the hoopla was too much to hope for—the Cornhuskers won 22 games last season, were NIT quarterfinalists and have a whole bunch of excellent players back. Still, despite poor performances by Braden, who underwent knee surgery on Oct. 16, Spicer and Robinson, UAB lost by only nine points.

"I think they're a very fine basketball team," says Nebraska Coach Joe Cipriano. "We played them at the very best time. They've got some big men inside and some fine outside players. If you let them fast-break, I think you'll find they'll win some games."

UAB has joined the Sun Belt Conference, which includes, among others, such schools as UNC-Charlotte, South Alabama and South Florida, but it is ineligible to win the league title until next season. Meanwhile, the impatient Bartow is hoping for a postseason tournament bid as an independent. Next year the Blazers should be even stronger, with everybody but Braden back and the addition of two good Birmingham products who have transferred to UAB, one from Alabama, the other from Southern Illinois, and have to sit out this season. Certainly a team with so much promise should enjoy the support of Birmingham fans, who have WHA hockey at the Coliseum in the winter, a few games of college football in Legion Stadium each fall and not much else.

Bartow and Jack Gardner are the only coaches to take teams from two different schools to the final four of the NCAA tournament. Gardner did it with Kansas State in 1948 and 1951 and Utah in 1961 and 1966. Bartow did it with Memphis State in 1973 and UCLA in 1976. It is not unreasonable to expect that he can do it some year with a third school, UAB. "I kind of have a dream of getting there with three different teams," he says. "Now that would really be something unusual."

Not any more unusual than the big leap UAB is making this year.

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