Blazers suffer fourth loss in a row

CINCINNATI (AP) -- While his sick teammates wheezed and gasped,
Jason Maxiell scored and rebounded, trying not to come down with
the bug that was going around.

The power forward did it all, getting Cincinnati (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today; No. 24 AP) through
a rough day.

Maxiell had 22 points and 11 rebounds Saturday, leading a
flu-stricken team to a 72-69 victory over slumping
Alabama-Birmingham. His best work came from the free throw line,
where he went 12-of-16.

"I knew I had to step up and be a leader," Maxiell said.

The Bearcats (20-6, 8-4 Conference USA) had a nine-point lead
cut to one in the final minute, but Armein Kirkland clinched it by
making two free throws with 9.9 seconds to go. UAB's Caldwell
"Squeaky" Johnson missed the rim with a long 3-pointer just
before the buzzer.

Afterward, the worn-out Bearcats were thankful they could hold

"I'm relieved," coach Bob Huggins said in a raspy voice. "At
this time of the year, you just keep trying to win, to find a way
to win."

Alabama-Birmingham (16-9, 6-6) hasn't won any of its last four
games, its longest skid since 2001-02. The Blazers forced 22
turnovers and had 11 steals -- they lead the country in that
category-- but struggled at the free throw line for the third
straight game, going 10-of-21.

"I thought we had the wear-and-tear in our favor," coach Mike
Anderson said. "They got tired. If you look at the last few
minutes, it's basically the free throws."

The Bearcats were ill-suited to keep up with UAB's fastbreak
offense and full-court pressure defense because three key players
were sapped by the flu.

Point guard Chadd Moore sat on the bench in long sleeves with a
towel around his neck, feeling chills as he missed his second
straight game. Forward James White played with a sagging face and
missed a breakaway dunk, but managed 14 points.

"I'm feeling better now," White said. "I'd get a pain in my
chest and would get tired fast."

Power forward Eric Hicks, the Bearcats' leader the last few
games, couldn't jump high enough to make an uncontested dunk during
the first half, when he went only 2-of-7 from the field. Hicks,
averaging 19.2 points over the last five games, had nine points and
11 rebounds.

Donnell Taylor and Marvett McDonald each had 16 points for UAB.

Cincinnati opened the game with a 7-0 run, then struggled
against UAB's relentless pressure. The Bearcats' depleted lineup
shot only 30 percent for the game and matched its season high in

"They gutted it out," Anderson said. "That's probably not one
of their better performances, but that's what good teams do."

Huggins got so enraged by the turnovers that he started benching
a player after each one. Point guard Jihad Muhammad had three
turnovers in the opening 69 seconds, and got stripped by Johnson
for a layup that put UAB ahead 31-26 at the start of the second
half, the Blazers' biggest lead.

Cincinnati changed the momentum by dominating the boards and
taking the ball inside, forcing the smaller Blazers to foul.
Demario Eddins picked up his fourth foul with 14:57 left, when
three other UAB players already had three.

Forward Marques Lewis, the Blazers' leading rebounder, crumpled
to the court with 7:11 to go and left the game without putting any
weight on his left knee, which already was protected by a brace. He
returned in the final minute, finishing with four points and three

Anderson drew a technical foul for going on the court to argue a
call with 6:16 to go. White made the two free throws, giving
Cincinnati its biggest lead of the game, 63-54.

Eddins scored the Blazers' next eight points, and McDonald hit a
fadeaway bank shot with 50 seconds left that cut it to 68-67.
Maxiell hit two free throws, and McDonald made another bank shot
with 32 seconds left.

Forced to foul, UAB sent Kirkland to the line for the decisive
free throws, both of which bounced around on the rim before falling