The message is pretty simple for Knights as they head into this evening's rematch versus the Connecticut Huskies.
"We need this one," guard Dayon Griffin said Tuesday.
He's very correct. UCF (13-7 overall, 4-4 in conference) has lost three of its last four games conference games, which includes a nine-point loss to the Huskies three weeks ago. The Knights would also probably like to get a win over an AAC squad with a .500-or-better conference record, something they have yet to do in any of their first three chances. The Huskies currently stand at 11-10 overall, 4-4 in conference.
The key to beating UConn is fairly simple but much easier said than done: Stymy the dangerous backcourt of Jalen Adams and Christian Vital. That duo contributed 31 of the Huskies' 62 points against the Knights earlier this month.
"They have terrific guards," head coach Johnny Dawkins said. "Jalen Adams is one of the guards in the nation, to be quite frank. First-team all-American Conference player. As well as Vital, who's had a terrific career as well. ... We have to make sure we play them accordingly and try to contain those guys. You're not going to stop them. You have to try to contain them."
While the Knights figure out how to do that, they're also still trying to iron out what they do as a team on each side of the floor without Tacko Fall. Dawkins said making such a huge adjustment two-thirds of the way into the season has been tough, but he thinks it's starting to click for his players.
"I can see signs in practice the last days that they're understanding what we want, and the execution has been better," Dawkins said.
Besides picking up the tempo a little more, Dawkins said the Knights' offense won't be undergoing a tectonic shift without their 7-foot-6 centerpiece. The head coach still wants to see a lot of feeds into the post, just with Chad Brown and Rokas Ulvydas receiving them instead. Dawkins said both players' ability to shoot after setting a pick also allows the Knights to create more spacing on the floor.
However, let's be clear: There is no way to truly replace Tacko Fall.
"Tacko, I always say, is one of a kind," senior forward A.J. Davis said. "There's no way to simulate Tacko. We can't make Chad Tacko, but Chad does things better than Tacko does and Tacko does things better than Chad and Rokas do. Just a couple of adjustments figuring out what they do better and how we can play better without him."
Besides the Xs and Os, perhaps the most intriguing angle surrounding this game is what carryover there is, if any, from the chippiness these two teams displayed up in Storrs, Conn. It began when Vital and Djordjije Mumin had a brief shoving match during pregame warmups after Vital walked over to UCF's side of the floor. Then during the game, Griffin was assessed a flagrant foul after stopping a breakaway layup by Vital, and the two of them exchanged words and a little bit of contact during the postgame handshake line.
But if you think that ConFLiCT has found a home on the hardwood, think again.
"I settled that with our guys right after that game," Dawkins said. "We're a program of class. We're not going to be involved in any kind of situations like that, no matter how it happens or who starts what. For us, it's all about UCF. Representing our university, representing our program the right way. We had that discussion and now we move on."
Griffin said those actions were borne out of frustration following a tough loss: "We just take that with us and try to put that towards our energy of handling things on the court. That's the only way we can go about that."
This AAC rematch will get underway at 9 p.m. tonight at CFE Arena. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.