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UCF Battling for Big 12 Respect “Sooner” Than Later Despite 65-62 Loss

While the Knights have their first one in the “L” column, this could be one small step back for the season, but a giant leap for UCF’s future.

Derek Warden

Saturday after the Thanksgiving holiday was a historic day for UCF Knights Men’s Basketball as it was the first time they hosted a Big 12 team in the Oklahoma Sooners. As soon-to-be Big 12 members themselves, there is a certain irony that their first Big 12 opponent is a squad leaving for the SEC in conjunction with the Knights projected 2023 departure from the American.

UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins had mentioned at the opening of the season that this was one of the games on the schedule that was designed to prepare the program for what future opposition might look like day-to-day. Based on how close this single game sample turned out, it seems the Knights are more than prepared.

Coach Dawkins has been consistent in his focus throughout the season on this team finishing strong and playing with high energy so that his squad can utilize their depth and keep pressure during the entire contest. He elaborated on how that didn’t happen as often as he would like despite an effort that forced 19 Oklahoma turnovers.

“There were too many times where we were just too far off guys in full court [pressure] and not putting the kind of pressure I wanted to see on guys,” said Dawkins. “That’s something we have to get better at. We didn’t get into our presses fast enough at times. . .”.

Dawkins did give his crew credit for finishing strong. Other than the final possession itself failing to produce a score, UCF reduced a nine-point lead to one with 48 seconds in the contest. Elijah Harkless hit a clutch contested jumper for the Sooners that left it at three as the final bucket in the game.

With his team playing well done the stretch as he hoped they would in the past two games, especially to help secure the win against Jacksonville, coach gave his assessment on what aspects of the game should be the next focus for improvement.

Darius Perry was UCF’s top performer in the game with 16 points, eight assists, three rebounds, and a steal while Darin Green Jr. dropped 17 with a rebound, two assists, and two steals.

The team as a whole now has an opportunity to apply polish to its already strong game. Next week, UCF heads to Auburn with an opportunity to apply lessons learned, not only to go 5-1 and improve their stock for getting in the NCAA Tournament but to show the nation that this Knights Men’s Basketball program will be ready for life in the Big 12.