MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Guard Joe Jackson did just about everything to help No. 25 Memphis complete its undefeated run through Conference USA.
Jackson scored 17 points, handed out 10 assists and grabbed nine rebounds as the Tigers pulled away for an 86-71 victory over Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday afternoon.And if the near-miss of a triple-double wasn't enough, Jackson added six steals for Memphis (27-4, 16-0)."It was just something we needed to achieve," Jackson said. "With the talent we've got in the locker room, we should be able to beat the majority of the teams in Conference USA. No disrespect to the teams. We've got some good teams (in C-USA), but we have a well-rounded team. We're all unselfish, so why not go undefeated?"Chris Crawford led Memphis scorers with 20 points, hitting 5 of 10 shots beyond the arc, while Geron Johnson had 19 points.Senior D.J. Stephens, playing in his last home game, finished with 13 points and eight rebounds as Memphis won its third straight and 21st in the last 22.The victory means Memphis will leave Conference USA with its fourth undefeated conference record, the last coming in the 2008-09 season. The Tigers will move next season to the new conference formed with part of the Big East, before the Catholic 7 left this week and took the league name."That was one of the goals coming into the season," Crawford said. "That's another goal to check off. We wanted to leave the conference undefeated."Jordan Swing led the Blazers (15-16, 7-9) with 19 points, despite hitting only one of his six shots from beyond the arc, while Rod Rucker scored 16 points.Quincy Taylor, missing only one of his five shots from 3-point range, finished with 12 points as the Blazers lost their second straight."They're so long and athletic defensively that it makes it difficult," UAB coach Jerod Haase said of Memphis. "When we didn't turn it over, we attacked the ball screens pretty well, and actually got them to change their defense a little bit, which is a little bit of a victory."UAB, which trailed by as many as 17 in the first half, opened the second half with a 16-2 run, capped by Swing's only 3-pointer of the game to pull within 45-44.But Stephens converted a 3-point play for Memphis, Jackson connected on a 3-pointer, and Memphis pulled away, eventually building the advantage to 24 with just under 3 minutes to play."Coming into the day, we still knew it was going to be a basketball game," said Stephens, who along with seniors Stan Simpson, Charles Holt and Ferrakohn Hall, was honored before the game. "Even though it was Senior Day, we still had to go play basketball."We had some points in the game where we let our guard down a little bit, and we let them creep back in the game. At the end of the day we were able to pull away and get the win."Memphis coach Josh Pastner began emptying his bench at that point, but did leave in Jackson in the hope of getting one more rebound for a triple-double, which remained elusive.Both teams shot at least 50 percent in the second half but struggled with ball handling in the game -- UAB committed 19 turnovers, compared to 18 for the Tigers."Even in the last two minutes, we were down pretty big and the guys, they weren't going to quit, whether it was our walk-on, or the rest of the guys," Haase said. "It's been that way the entire year. We just continue to play as hard as we possibly can."Memphis used defense and 3-point shooting to carry a 43-28 lead into the locker room. Memphis closed the half on a 12-4 rally to build the lead to 17 in the closing minute of the half.And once UAB rallied to open the second half and was unable to overtake Memphis, the Tigers were able to honor their seniors and enjoy a run though C-USA without a loss."To go 16-0 is special. You don't take that for granted," Pastner said. "To be able to do something like what we just did is so hard to do. You appreciate it. You don't take it for granted."It's a special team to do what we just did."