The 2020-2021 season will be one of transition for the UCF Knights Women’s Basketball team. The departure of three key seniors, including arguably the best player in school history, Kay Kay Wright, means the Knights will have to rely on a number of players previously considered supporting cast to step up and lead the way.
Among them will be UCF’s returning frontcourt players, including All-AAC Preseason First-Teamer Brittney Smith and Masseny Kaba.
20-10, 11-5 AAC, 2nd place in The American.
Another year, another 20-win campaign for Coach Abe - her fourth in as many years at the helm. And yet, close games were a bit of a bugaboo for UCF. Six of their ten losses came by seven points or less, including a 7-point loss to UConn, two one-point road contests against Tulane and Temple, and the season-ending heartbreaker to Cincinnati in the conference semis.
Despite that bad close game luck, the Knights still finished second behind UConn in the standings. UCF led the league in rebounding and was second in scoring defense. They were primed and ready for a re-match with the Huskies when Cincinnati derailed those hopes.
The loss may have cost UCF an NCAA at-large berth, but we’ll never know, because COVID.
This Year’s Outlook
With UConn departing for the Big East, the field is open in The American. UCF is picked to finish second in the league behind South Florida, who should be back to full strength after a rash of injuries last year.
Who’s In Charge
Katie Abrahamson Henderson (5th season). Coach Abe has established herself as one of the brilliant defensive minds in The American, as her philosophy has brought her squads to 20 wins every year she’s been here. Should the Knights reach that plateau again this year, she would eclipse Joe Sanchez’s long-standing record for most consecutive seasons with 20+ wins.
She also returns her entire coaching staff, including Isoken Uzamere, Tahnee Balerio, and former UConn great Nykesha Sales.
Ten players are back from last year’s team, including Brittney Smith, Masseny Kaba and Destiny Thomas up front. They’re complimented by Courtajia Sanders and Jnaya Walker, who performed well last year in the three spot.
In the backcourt, Diamond Battles brings her trademark intensity back to the fore, along with three new mates who redshirted last year: Kiera Brown, sharpshooter Becca Ripley, and highly-touted Jersey City product Breyanna Frazier.
- Three seniors - Kaba, Sanders and Walker.
- Five newcomers - Freshmen Maniya Custis, Colleen Buckner and Ashton Verhulst, plus transfers Asia Todd (Liberty) and Alisha Lewis (Syracuse).
- Five players from Florida - including two from Central Florida: Battles (Winter Haven) and Smith (Boone).
Asia Todd was Liberty’s first-ever A-Sun All-Freshman selection, and came on in the conference tournament, averaging 18 points per game and making the all-tournament team. She also has range, hitting 41% of her threes last year.
She joins a roster that adds Becca Ripley to the mix, another three-point specialist who transferred in from Miami prior to last year but sat out.
Who We’ll Miss
Kay Kay. No words needed:
Non-Conference: Virginia (2019-2020 RPI #75), at LSU (#35), FGCU (#36) and at Georgia Tech (#79)
In The American: First, UConn is gone! All 11 teams play home-and-home against all other teams in the league’s new schedule format. Aside from UCF and the departed UConn, nobody finished higher than 61st in the RPI (Cincinnati). Everyone is going to be figuring out what the composition of this league will look like with the Huskies, and their guaranteed RPI boost from merely showing up to play them, elsewhere.
What to Keep an Eye On
Down low. Coach Abe said in media availability that her frontcourt will carry the load. Expect Smith and Kaba to get lots of touches on a nightly basis. But they can’t do it alone. Destiny Thomas will be expected to contribute off the bench, and the Knights’ other frontcourt veterans, Walker and Sanders, will have to help on the backside with rebounding and causing general havoc for opposing defenses.
Who will create shots? With Kay Kay Wright gone, UCF will need a shot creator for those moments when someone needs to make something happen with the shot clock running down. The burden falls then to Diamond Battles, who was effectively the Knights’ second point guard the last two years, and the cast of newcomers, including Brown, Frazier, and Todd, as well as the promising Ahna Burney.
The Last Time...
UCF won the conference tournament: 2011. That was the last ride for Joi Williams’ original crew of freshmen. UCF got to the American Championship in 2019, but lost to UConn.
UCF went to the NCAA Tournament: 2019. It was UCF’s first at-large NCAA bid. The Knights have not won an NCAA Tournament game yet.