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UCF’s Big 12 Questions: What Does Women’s Basketball Need to Compete in the Big 12?

We answer the 12 biggest questions facing UCF Athletics in 2023-24 and beyond

Sytia Messer Women’s Basketball Head Coach press conference
Sytia Messer
Photo: Jeff Sharon

The 2023-24 UCF Knights Athletics season is underway, and in honor of UCF’s accession into the Big 12 Conference, we will present our version of 12 for 12. For the next week, we will tackle what we think are the 12 biggest questions facing UCF Athletics in the coming year across all sports.

Our next question comes from Women’s Basketball:

9. What does Women’s Basketball need to compete in the Big 12?

Jeff: Size, athleticism and shooting. Over the years, UCF has had each of these, but to compete in a conference as loaded as the Big 12 is in basketball, they’ll need all three at once.

Coach Abe’s teams relied on size and athleticism, particularly on defense. Through one season, Coach Messer has established her team’s identity on the offensive end with athleticism and shooting, but size has taken a hit courtesy of the transfer portal. However, this is another case where merely existing in the Big 12 can help the coaching staff recruit players to fill the holes that previous regimes would have had to find ways around with the players they had.

Baylor University vs University of Notre Dame, 2019 Women’s NCAA Finals
Sytia Messer cut down the nets at Baylor. She certainly expects to at UCF.
Photo by David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Coach Messer knows the Big 12 as well as anyone, having been an assistant at Baylor under Kim Mulkey for seven years before going with her to LSU. That amount of institutional knowledge alone will pay dividends.

Kyle: Getting more of a post presence would be nice but getting consistent true point guard play and on-the-floor leadership will be key.

Sierra Godbolt building on her role in bringing the ball down as a freshman would be the shortest route to success here. Also, Laila Jewitt further increasing her role as a leader as she becomes an upperclassman this season will be essential as well. Building off of her dominant performance in conference tournament play, if she can set the tone by helping her teammates buy into the coaches’ philosophy, competing may not be a foregone conclusion.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Sierra Godbolt (22)
Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK

Also, under Nay Hutton’s guidance, Briana Hardy growing up fast to help battle in the paint will also be an important piece of the puzzle. If Hutton, Hardy, Jewitt, and Goldbolt can form a nucleus in the offseason, any incoming players from that point as well as any support from returners bouncing back from injury would only be icing on the cake for what could be a respectable first-year showing in the nation’s top basketball conference just two years removed from a cupboard cleaning of the program.

Bryson: This team needs to find an identity for itself. Head Coach Sytia Messer had a challenging first season with a team of returners that did not see a lot of court time the season before (save Destiny Thomas) and the injury bug struck Anzhane Hutton, Ashton Verhulst, and Morgan Robinson-Nwagwu.

Laila Jewett
Photo: Noah Goldberg

However, now that she has had a season to feel this team out and get her bearings, she will be much better prepared going into 2023-24. Laila Jewett emerged as a threat from beyond the arc, Hutton returned midseason and finished third on the team in rebounds and Sierra Godbolt took up the point as a freshman.

If Messer is able to hone these talents and elevate them in the coming months, then the Knights should at least be able to keep things competitive with Big 12 teams.

Andrew: I’m going to take this answer in a slightly different direction. As Bryson said, the program needs to find its identity. The team was gutted after coach Abe left and it’s going to take time to properly build with Sytia Messer at the helm. The athletic administration needs to exercise patience on what could arguably be UCF’s worst sport historically. This is not a quick fix and will take more than a season to do.