The UCF Knights returned to their winning ways after a 67-57 win over the SMU Mustangs Saturday afternoon at Addition Financial Arena.
The Knights and Mustangs traded leads throughout the contest. SMU led by as much as six in the middle of the second quarter, but the Knights tightened the gap and tied the game at halftime at 32.
It’s the second consecutive game where the Knights found themselves tied at halftime. The Knights were tied with the Temple Owls Wednesday night on the road at 30.
Temple pulled ahead early in the third and went on to win the game.
Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson knew that it was crucial for the Knights to pull ahead in the third quarter and pushed the message at halftime.
“We’re going to throw on the press, take off the press,” coach ABE said. “We’re going to try to mix it up and I think it worked.”
The Knights pulled off a 12-4 run to put themselves back in the driver’s seat. However, the Mustangs drove behind them with their own 12-4 run to tie the game at 50.
After the 50-50 tie, the Knights strung together a fatal blow for the Mustangs with an 11-0 run that sealed the game.
The Knights were led by Kay Kay Wright, who scored a team-high 22 points and Brittney Smith, who added 16 of her own.
Wright and Smith picked up the slack with Masseny Kaba not in the lineup today.
Kaba’s minutes were absorbed by junior J’naya Walker and freshman Destiny Thomas, who grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.
“J’naya [Walker] and Destiny [Thomas] really stepped up,” Smith said. “Especially defensively since Masseny [Kaba] is one of our really big defensive players. We made minimal mistakes on defense.”
Walker and Thomas weren’t the only depth pieces that stepped up for the Knights in Kaba’s absence. Sianni Martin scored 14 off the bench on 6-9 shooting.
“It feels great knowing we have depth,” Wright said. “Players can come off the bench and it feels no different than if a starter were in.”
One of the biggest strengths with last year’s NCAA Tournament team was the amount of depth the team had.
This year, one of the biggest challenges the team has faced is figuring out which players can step up given the team’s lack of experience playing together.
However, with conference play reaching its halfway mark and January turning into February, it feels like this Knights team is picking up steam and getting closer to where they were a year ago.
The Knights travel to Tulsa to face the Golden Hurricane Wednesday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. ET.