Let’s Start With a Little History Between These Coaches…
March 2, 2005 was a big night of truth for the DePaul Blue Demons. Firmly on the bubble, DePaul traveled to Birmingham to take on the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers. The winner of the game would have the upper hand going into the Conference USA tournament and, mostly likely, move up and off the NCAA tournament bubble.
The coaches that night were Dave Leitao, in his final year of his first term at DePaul, and St. John’s Mike Anderson, who was in his 3rd year at UAB after several years as Nolan Richardson’s top assistant at Arkansas. Anderson brought with him Richardson’s famed “40 Minutes of Hell” defense and fast paced, three point shooting and layup lined offense.
This Blue Demon team was one of the last good teams that DePaul has had. Lead by Drake Deiner, Sammy Mejia, and Quemont Greer, the Demons came into the game 18-7 with a 10-4 record in conference. A victory would seal a first round bye in the conference tournament and get them closer to being in the NCAA Tournament. UAB came into the game 8-6 with a need to win their last two games to get the important bye.
The game went back and forth. The Demons were up 2 at the half, and took their largest lead of 8 in the second half. Then the pace and the pressure took its toll on DePaul. UAB tied the game late sending it to overtime. In overtime, UAB hit a 3 pointer with 24 seconds left. DePaul set up Diener for a 3 pointer, which he missed. DePaul rebounded and set up another 3 point shot. Ultimately hitting a 2 pointer shot with a second left losing by a single point. DePaul lost their regular season finale to Louisville and UAB won theirs to secure the 4th seed and 1st round bye in the C-USA tournament.
8 days later, after DePaul won their first round game against Tulane, the Demons once again faced UAB in the quarterfinals. The winner would go to the NCAA tournament and the loser would go to the NIT.
Another back and forth game with DePaul going up by 10 with a little under 10 minutes left in the game. The frenetic UAB defense chipped away at the lead, and with 1:28 UAB hit a 3 pointer to gain their first lead of the game. Mejia scored a game tying free-throw. DePaul got a defensive stop and got the ball to Drake Diener with the hope that he would get fouled and be the iceman that he was. Under intense pressure, UAB forced Diener into a walk. UAB then made a 3 pointer leaving .7 seconds on the clock and DePaul lost. Two brutal losses, in which DePaul had the lead with less than 2 minutes to go in both game.
UAB lost to an excellent, Final Four Louisville team in the next round but was selected to the NCAA tournament the next day. The Blazers won their 1st round game, before being knocked out by the Arizona team that almost knocked Illinois out of the tournament at Allstate Arena.
Meanwhile, DePaul was selected to the NIT, where they beat Mizzou but lost to Texas A&M. Dave Leitao left for Virginia, and a year later, Mike Anderson left for Mizzou.