The UCF Knights Women’s Basketball team’s season came to an end on Monday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in San Antonio, Texas, din a 62-51 decision to Northwestern.
But for the Knights, this NCAA Tournament experience feels different than the previous five trips, when the Knights were significant underdogs. They had a chance to win this one and will always ask, ‘What if?’
The ‘What if’ question comes from what happened with under six minutes to go in the half, with the Knights leading 18-16. UCF’s defense came up with a stop, but junior guard Diamond Battles was injured on the play. Battles was helped off the court and never returned as she injured her right leg and left the game with 6 points in 14 minutes.
The Knights responded positively, getting five quick points from Aisha Lewis to take a 23-17 lead. But that momentum was short lived as Northwestern finished the half on a 13-3 run to take a 30-26 lead into the locker room.
The Wildcats’ defense turned it up a notch in the 3rd quarter, holding UCF to 7 points on 3 of 15 shooting from the field as Northwestern increased the lead to 43-33. UCF made a run in the 4th quarter to pull within six, but Lindsay Pulliam was too much for the Knights as she carried the Northwestern offense, scoring 25 points to lead the ‘Cats to the second round with the 62-51 victory.
Masseny Kaba did all she could, leading the Knights in scoring (14), rebounds (13) and assists (5). But Kaba, like many in UCF program, will always think, ‘What if Diamond Battles did not get hurt?’
Certainly, you can hear it in Coach Abe’s voice when talking about losing Diamond and what it meant not having one of the leaders of team. It was clear Diamond was missed.
Sports are unfair many times. Injuries are part of sports. But it does not make the emotional pain of a season coming to an end like that any less.
Maybe Northwestern wins anyway. Give them credit: the Wildcats’ “Blizzard” defense, as they call it, was as good as advertised, forcing UCF into 20 turnovers while holding them to 36% shooting for the game.
UCF had a successful season, going 16-5, finishing one-half game away from The American’s regular season championship, and making the NCAA Tournament for the second time under Coach Abe. And she is on track to being the greatest UCF Women’s Basketball head coach of all-time, with two NCAA Tournaments and two WNIT appearances, let alone with the incredible coaching job she her staff did this season, considering they had to replace one of greatest Knights ever Kay Kay Wright due to graduation during a pandemic.
The future is bright, with most of the team’s top contributors returning next season along with a great recruiting class that people within the program feel is the best class yet in the Coach Abe era.
But many in the program will also be asking themselves those ‘What if’ questions this off-season. What if South Florida was not awarded a forfeit win by The American or UCF could have played another game in conference? Would they be AAC champs? What if UCF did not dig themselves a hole in the second quarter of the AAC Championship Game vs. South Florida? Would they have won the AAC Tournament? And what if Diamond Battles did not get hurt in 2nd quarter? Would they be getting ready to play Louisville in the program’s first-ever second round NCAA Tournament game on Wednesday?