Anyone familiar with the UCF Knights Women’s Basketball program will notice many things from last season will be similar going into the 2021-22 campaign.
The starting five will be returning from last year thanks in part to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to players due to the pandemic including fifth-year “super seniors” in guard Tay Sanders and forward Masseny Kaba. The out-of-conference schedule featuring Tennessee and in the opening week of action is set to give the Knights a solid RPI once again. And while not related to COVID, the health of the players will remain a concern to head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson based on their style of play.
“I know it sounds like it’s not a big thing,” said Coach Abe, “but it is hard to keep them healthy because the way we play so physical, we play so tough, and we play so aggressive.”
But with most college basketball teams having the same goal of winning their conference tournament, it’ll be what’s different from the previous year that could build success on an already high bar.
As the runners-up in the American Athletic Conference tourney, they fell short to their intrastate conference rivals, the USF Bulls in the championship contest. While the defense plays tough as we have come to expect, the difference was the Bulls launching threes and overwhelming the gritty Knights by outshooting them.
Preseason projections have picked the Bulls to finish at the top of the conference once again. With UCF projected to that same runner-up spot, these squads could put themselves on a collision course yet again at the end of the year. Should that happen, Kaba and senior forward Brittney Smith explained during UCF Hoops Media Day what they’ve been working on during the off-season that could put them over the top.
Smith in particular cited that becoming more of a balanced team and not just relying on being powerful in the paint was a focus during practices to this point.
“On the offensive end, I feel like, all of us individually have been working on different ways of scoring and perfecting the ways we did score, and this year I feel like it should be extremely balanced,” she said.
Smith also stated that other players scoring who didn’t have as many points per game last year could also be a factor as they too sharpen their skills to become more essential ingredients within the chemistry of this crew.
That being said, coach Abe also cited that opportunities to get on the court with the most experienced roster of her career are not a given compared to last year.
So as the Knights approach the season opener against Duquesne, a lot of what is the same from last year provides a solid chance for them to repeat their success. It will be the little differences that will help them achieve the goal of winning the American and the possibility of winning a game in the NCAA tournament.
After all, when looking at the picture of a completed AAC tournament bracket, you see the champion school’s name in the middle and not the runner-up – a little difference.