published Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

UTC Mocs, Casey Jones facing 'junkyard' challenge at Alabama-Birmingham

UTC Mocs guard Casey Jones (24) jumps to take a shot over the Kennesaw State Owls defense at McKenzie Arena.
UTC Mocs guard Casey Jones (24) jumps to take a shot over the Kennesaw State Owls defense at McKenzie Arena.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.

Casey Jones walked out of McKenzie Arena on Tuesday evening with his copy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga scouting report for tonight's basketball game at Alabama-Birmingham.

But he already knew his role.

"My man is No. 42 [Rod Rucker]" Jones said. "He's supposed to be a junkyard dog, which is what they call me. I'm supposed to match skills with him and see who's the toughest."

It's quite an assignment for the UTC sophomore. Jones will be giving up about 40 pounds to Rucker, who was tabbed by Lindy's Magazine as the Conference USA preseason player of the year.

Rucker is averaging 11.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He grabbed 20 rebounds against New Mexico and has three double-doubles this season after leading the Blazers in scoring and rebounding last season.

"Usually I guard the point guard to stop penetration, or guard the opposing team's best player," Jones said. "I had Kyle Anderson against UCLA. He's a triple-double magnet and he filled up the stat sheet against me [17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists].

"I like the big assignments."

It will be even tougher if senior center Zaccheus Mason misses a second straight game with a broken big toe.

Mason is UTC's leading scorer (18.6 ppg) and rebounder (7.5 rpg) and averages nearly two blocked shots per game. The Mocs were able to make up for his points Sunday in an 87-71 loss at Northern Kentucky with Martynas Bareika scoring a career-high 29 points, but they were beat on the boards 33-22.

"There are two or three rebounds a game that only Z can get," UTC coach Will Wade said. "Rebounding is what we're missing. We have to rebound by committee."

Mason, the lone senior on a 4-7 team with one Division I victory, participated in a shoot-around Tuesday and is questionable for tonight's game.

"We'll see in the morning how the swelling is going," Wade said. "We're holding out hope. More realistically, he's back for the Dr Pepper [Classic] or our first conference game."

That could make for a long night against the Blazers (8-2), who have beaten North Carolina -- a team with wins over Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky -- and took New Mexico into double-overtime.

The Blazers' other loss came to Temple on a neutral court in Charleston. They whipped Georgia Southern 84-62 on Sunday in Bartow Arena by going on a 28-0 run late in the first half.

"They're probably the second-best team we've played to UCLA," Wade said. "There's nothing real pretty about them. They don't try to trick you. They say, 'We're tougher, bigger, badder and stronger.'"

And they've proven it.

UAB leads the nation with averages of 48.4 rebounds and 17.2 offensive rebounds per game.

"They like to run fast, press the ball and push after rebounds," Mareika said. "Our transition defense has to stop them."

Wade will have a plan. It includes Jones defending Rucker and perhaps a couple other tweaks against a team ranked 267 spots higher on RealTimeRPI.com heading into Tuesday's games.

"We're going to change the way we defend and hope for them to shoot longer shots that will allow for rebounds that we can chase down," Wade said. "Any rebound in the paint is going to be a big advantage for UAB."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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