UCF's matchup versus the No. 12 Cincinnati Bearcats on Tuesday is probably the Knights' biggest regular season home game since, well, when they faced Cincinnati last year. On that February afternoon, UCF held Cincy to less than 30 percent shooting, won a hard-nosed defensive struggle, 53-49, and notched its first victory over a ranked team in six years.
But for senior forward A.J. Davis, the battle on the court wasn't as memorable as the atmosphere in the stands.
"I think I remember the crowd more than the game almost just because they were such a big part of what we did," he said.
The energy shouldn't be lacking this time around either. Classes are back in session at UCF, and the fans will come out to not only see their hardwood Knights try to slay a top-15 opponent but to also once again honor their undefeated football team.
✅ @UCF_Football in the house— UCF Men's Basketball (@UCF_MBB) January 15, 2018
✅ National Championship T-Shirts
✅ Photo ops with Trophies
✅ And Oh Yeah, huge rematch with No. 13 Bearcats
All you need to know for the game vs. Cincinnati Tuesday night https://t.co/lYwio1CPP3 pic.twitter.com/8PmtZKDjo0
"When the environment is rocking like that, the players just feed off that energy," head coach Johnny Dawkins said when reminiscing about last season's triumph over the Bearcats. "It was exciting to see and hopefully we can have the same type of atmosphere [Tuesday]."
The level of defense played should surely be reminiscent of the previous meeting. The Knights, anchored by Tacko Fall and do-it-all Davis, rank third in the country in scoring defense at 59.1 points per game. The Bearcats sit just in front of them, holding down the No. 2 spot at 58.4. The Knights are seventh in field goal percentage defense. The Bearcats are third. Guard Ceasar DeJesus called last year's game a "defensive masterpiece," and it is that defense which the Knights will continue to lean on.
"The one constant, the thing that you can be consistent with, is your defensive effort and energy," Dawkins said. "And our guys, they've done that. They've provided that, and that's given us an opportunity to be competitive in every game."
So, the environment in the building should be outstanding again. The defenses should be on point again. The Knights would love to repeat last season's result as well, but for that to happen, they will need to match the Bearcats' offense, which sports four double-digit scorers -- Gary Clark, Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington and Jarron Cumberland -- who were all active for last season's showdown in Orlando. UCF is shooting barely north of 40 percent from the field and has averaged 57.3 points per game in American Athletic Conference play. The Knights fell shy of both marks in their most recent game, a 62-53 loss at Connecticut last Tuesday.
The offensive woes are nothing new; the Knights have finished with 65 points or fewer in 10 of their 17 contests. Their struggles are due in large part to long-term injuries suffered by Aubrey Dawkins and B.J. Taylor. However, the squad could get some good news before Tuesday's tipoff on the latter half of that duo. Finally. Maybe.
Coach Dawkins said Monday that Taylor remains day-to-day. That's been his line on the junior for weeks now, but he also said he, Taylor and trainers will gauge Taylor's health following a Monday workout and then again on Tuesday. For now, UCF's point guard and leading scorer from last season, who has been sidelined for more than two months by a broken foot, is considered a game-time decision.
It was Taylor who made the biggest basket of the day versus Cincinnati last year: a 3-pointer that gave the Knights a five-point lead with 33 seconds to play. Although Coach Dawkins hasn't talked about that big win with his players during their current preparations, Davis said he thinks the Bearcats will definitely carry memories of what happened the last time they played in CFE Arena. It's highly unlikely those memories have anything to do with the crowd.
"They're a good defensive team. We're a good defensive team," Davis said. "... If we stick to our game plan and do what we're supposed to do, we'll be successful."
The Knights (12-5, 3-2 in the AAC) and the Bearcats (15-2, 4-0) will get underway from CFE Arena at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.