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Women’s Basketball edges Houston for First Big 12 win

True freshman gets first career double double

Brenna Johnson

The UCF Knights Women’s Basketball team picked up their first conference victory in the Big 12 era with a 92-87 overtime Space Game thriller against Houston Saturday afternoon.

The win breaks a seven-game losing streak, the program’s longest since 2015-16, and echoes its first victory of the AAC era back in 2013-14, also against the Cougars.

“We had a lot of weight on us to get that first win,” head coach Sytia Messer said after the game. “I just kept telling our players, ‘It’s coming. It’s coming.’”

How did the ‘Nauts pull it off? Let’s go over some key points:

She’s Not Alone

Throughout this season, guard Kaitlin Peterson has become the driving force of the UCF offense, accounting for just over 30% of UCF’s shot attempts and just under 30% of shots made this season.

“She’s a Big 12 player,” Houston head coach Ronald Hughey said after the game. “We thought they had one Big 12 player and she’s it.”

However, what Hughey was not expecting was for center Khyala Ngodu to earn her first career double-double.

“She just finished every time,” Hughey said. “It didn’t matter if we had two on her, we put another 6’3”-6’4” on her, she just got the ball over them because they were starving for a win, you can tell. It wasn’t just hungry, they were starving for it and they played like that.”

The true freshman tied a career high with 12 rebounds, went 5-7 from the free-throw line and 10-12 from the floor, scoring a career high 25 points. This included a layup that forced the game into overtime.

“She was having a great night,” Peterson said. “So, we wanted the ball in her hands, because obviously they couldn’t guard her.”

Guard Morgan Robinson-Nwagwu also got in on the double-double action, scoring 12 points with 10 rebounds. It’s the first time two UCF players earned a double-double in the same game since Nov. 2022.

“The thing about Morgan is she came back after Christmas with a different mindset,” Messer said. “She’s really bought into what we’re doing and the different positions we asked her to play, and defending some of the better players and she’s just at a great place mentally right now and I’m proud of her.”

However, with other players stepping up, that left Peterson, nicknamed KP, to go for the K.O.

“When we get other people stepping up, then it’s gonna get her even more shots because the defense is focusing so much on KP,” Messer said. “So, we’re a different team, other people are stepping up.”

A third of her 27 points came in overtime, where she shot a perfect 3-3 from the floor and 3-4 at the charity stripe. Overall, she shot 7-17 from the floor and 11-14 from the free-throw line.

After playing in 156 of 160 minutes over the past four games, Saturday was her first overtime game and she still played in 44 of 45 minutes.

“I just try not to think about it,” Peterson said. “Something I always do, I’m a religious person, I always just ask God to give me strength and just ask Him to help me get through the game, and it works.”

Getting to the Paint and the Line

Peterson was not the only ‘Naut to find success at the charity stripe. UCF set a season high in both free-throw points and attempts by going 33-42 from the line, compared to Houston’s 15-23.

“We’ve been focusing on free throws with our team the entire season,” Messer said. “We hit a couple more free throws against other teams and our record is significantly different.”

The ‘Nauts, despite fewer minutes from forward Achol Akot and center Jayla Kelly, also outscored the Cougars 50-28 in the paint.

“I think our coaching staff does a really good job of putting us in the right positions for it, especially me,” Ngodu said.

Learning From the Past

Since the last time UCF played in Addition Financial Arena, they came within single digits of beating a Top 15-ranked Baylor and TCU on the road.

“This team is right there, we were right there,” Messer said. “So, we’ve been celebrating things that we’ve done well and now we’re hoping that we can get on a roll from here.”

What’s Next?

The ‘Nauts will be on the road again for a rematch with West Virginia, who beat UCF 76-59 in Addition Financial Arena on Jan. 13. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.