The UCF Knights are now winners of four straight games after taking care of business Saturday afternoon against the Cincinnati Bearcats 49-42.
The result seemed unlikely after the Knights scored just four points in the opening quarter and after the team committed turnover after turnover.
In the first half, the Knights made just five of their 23 shots and had more turnovers (18) than points (15).
However, the Knights were in striking distance thanks to tight defense and sloppy play from their opponent as well.
The Bearcats shot just 9-25, good for 36 percent, in the first half and made none of their nine three-point attempts.
But once the second half began, the Knights turned a page, scoring 20 points in the third quarter.
“I think it was getting stops and being able to go in transition and draw fouls,” coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said.
Fouls played a big role down the stretch, and the Knights took advantage.
“We practice free throws day in and day out,” senior guard Kay Kay Wright said. “Free throws can win and lose the game.”
And free throws won this game for the Knights. In the second half, the Knights went 15-17 from the charity stripe.
20 of the Knights’ 49 points came from the free throw line. The Bearcats had just four points from free throws on four attempts.
Another factor that pushed the Knights over the edge was the play from junior forward Masseny Kaba, the team’s most consistent player on a day where consistency was hard to find.
Kaba grabbed a team-high five offensive rebounds, three of which came in the fourth quarter. All nine of her points came in the second half and she was the only Knight to shoot above 50 percent from the field.
“She [Kaba] was getting in there, cleaning up those O-boards,” Wright said. “It really gave us a spark.”
As a team, the Knights out-rebounded the Bearcats 43-31.
“We knew coming into this game, we had to get this win,” Kaba said. “We just know that we have to play hard every game and that’s what we did tonight.”
With the win, the Knights now pull to within a half-game of second place in the American Athletic Conference.
And with the “War on I-4” and the chance to take control of second place in the conference Wednesday, the pressure builds as the season winds down.
“I don’t think we’ll have to motivate our kids for this game,” coach ABE said.
The “War on I-4” speaks for itself. It’s always a big game and the stakes for Wednesday are as high as they’ve been all season long.
UCF takes on the USF Bulls Wednesday night at Addition Financial Arena. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.