Home sweet home. It's where the UCF Men's Basketball Team will be for the rest of their schedule, and it's where they are glad to be following a rough road trip that changed the outlook of their season.
A week ago, the Knights controlled their own destiny toward securing a first-round bye in the AAC Conference Tournament, which begins next Thursday at the Amway Center. But after losses to Tulsa and Temple, the Knights have fallen to sixth in the American and are simply looking to gain some measures of confidence and momentum in their final two games before the tourney.
"You can't get down on yourself, gotta keep going," guard B.J. Taylor said. "Just been preaching to our guys to try to keep going and staying positive. There's a lot left to play for this season."
Said forward Chad Brown: "Everything that we want to play for is still right in front of us and we have a big opportunity coming Thursday."
Taking advantage of that opportunity tonight won't be easy as UCF welcomes No. 11 Wichita State to the CFE Arena. The Shockers notched a wire-to-wire, 81-62 victory when these teams met in January. On that night, Wichita State, led by Rashard Kelly and Shaquille Morris, outrebounded the Knights by 10 and held a 21-5 advantage in second-chance points. Those have certainly been two areas of focus for the Black and Gold heading into the rematch.
"We've got to keep them off the offensive glass," Taylor said. "We didn't do such a bad job on their first shots; a lot of the things they got were second shots, so we've got to stop them from getting second shots at the hoop, got to stop their offensive rebounding."
UCF's overall defense will need to be on point in order to slow down an offense that averages more than 80 points per game and ranks fifth in adjusted efficiency. That defense was far from perfect last week, and head coach Johnny Dawkins said defensive breakdowns were a major why the final road trip was a depressing one for the Knights.
"We have to be better on that end of the floor," he said. "That's where we hang our hat and we have to make sure that we value every possession on the defensive end."
The results on the offensive end of the floor weren't great either as UCF shot 40 percent or less in three of its four halves on the road. However, with Ceasar DeJesus battling the flu and Dayon Griffin mourning his grandmother's passing, those two players didn't get much practice time last week, and Dawkins remarked that the offense's chemistry wasn't sharp, especially versus the Owls.
But that is in the past. The Knights are home and won't be leaving Orlando again unless they make a national postseason tourney. But Dawkins is also very realistic about what having a home-court advantage means.
"We want to come back home understanding home just doesn't do it for us; we have to do it by our effort and by how well we play together."