Ironically, the greatest game in the the greatest season in UCF Knights Athletics history in terms of on the field success for all sports ended in a loss.
You may ask, “Why the heck is a UCF loss the best game of 2018-2019?”
The answer is while UCF Men’s Basketball lost on the scoreboard to Duke in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament, in the big picture, UCF was the big winner.
First was the hype going into the game, as many people were excited about the many storylines. It was a matchup of UCF Basketball Head Coach Johnny Dawkins against his mentor, Coach K, who he played for at Duke and helped to build into a national brand.
While Dawkins vs. Coach K was a juicy storyline, another storyline the national media was interested in was UCF’s Tacko Fall against Duke’s star Zion Williamson.
The game had the entire country on the edge of its seat. Aubrey Dawkins played one of greatest games any Knight has ever played in any sport, scoring 32 points and establishing himself as the best player on a court that had three future top 10 NBA Draft picks.
Unfortunately many will remember the Dawkins tip-in that just missed, as Duke advanced barely with a 77-76 victory to reach the Sweet 16.
UCF Basketball’s performance reminded me of the movie “Rocky” in 1976, and the boxing character Rocky Balboa, who was given no chance to beat Apollo Creed. He ended up losing a split decision to Creed but came away more well-known, respected and celebrated.
The same was the case for UCF, who was a big underdog against powerhouse Duke, took the Blue Devils to the limit and won over many people in defeat as the national media and fans praised UCF.
The post-game was just as emotional as the final scenes of the movie Rocky, starting with Coach K on CBS right after the buzzer.
The scene was even more emotional in the UCF locker room, as that had everyone talking the next day on how Coach Dawkins handled his players in a tough time.
The game was also a huge TV hit with an 8.8 national rating with 12.88 million viewers, making it the most-watched UCF sporting event ever. It was also the most watched UCF Basketball game of all-time locally and 4th-most watched UCF sporting event ever, as I broke down back in March.
Any UCF fan or alum was proud of the team’s effort and performance. You can make the argument that this is the only UCF sporting event that is discussed by the casual sports fan that had no rooting interest. More people outside of Orlando will be talking about this incredible game involving UCF years from now than any UCF Football bowl win for many reasons. People care more about the NCAA Tournament than bowl games, The storylines in the game and the impact this game can gain in stature as years go on.
Zion Williamson, who scored 32 points, would go on to be the #1 overall NBA Draft pick by the New Orleans Pelicans.
Duke’s R.J Barrett would go with the #3 pick in NBA Draft to the New York Knicks, while Cam Reddish ended up going 10th to the Atlanta Hawks.
Meanwhile during NBA Summer League, the one player who stood out as most popular was Tacko Fall with Boston Celtics.
Should Zion, RJ, Cam, Tacko and other players involved in the Duke/UCF game have success at the next level, that will only make the Knights-Blue Devils clash grow in legendary status.
But regardless, it was an amazing game that had it all, and provided memories for everyone that was in attendance or watching at home.
For UCF, they hope this game is only the begining, just like the first Rocky movie, which ended up winning an Academy Award for Best Picture turned into an iconic and succesful series of movies. Surely UCF hopes this Academy Award-winning performance is the start of successful series of their own.