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Women’s Hoops Beats St. Leo in 71-43 Exhibition Win

The Knights facing the Lions give us a taste of what the team will be under new head coach Sytia Messer.

Sytia Messer Women’s Basketball Head Coach press conference Photo: Jeff Sharon

Coming off of an iconic season in 2021-22 where UCF Knights Women’s basketball achieved heights the program hadn’t seen in its history, new head coach Sytia Messer and a slew of news faces hosted the Lions of St.Leo in a 71-43 exhibition win at Addition Financial Arena.

While transfer Nay Hutton wasn’t on the court due to an injury, other newcomers played a prominent role. Michigan transfer forward Taylor Gibson and former Georgia Southern guard Mya Burns started alongside returners Laila Jewett, Asia Todd, and Destiny Thomas.

Todd left the game early with an apparent knee injury, which led to freshman guard Sierra Godbolt getting nine minutes of playing time.

Positionless Basketball as Promised

During both AAC and UCF media days, Messer said she was looking for players who could score from all over the court. She may have found that in Rachel Ranke.

Coming off the bench, the 6-1 guard put up 14 points to lead the team in scoring, including 4/9 from beyond the arc.

A player getting hot from distance was a rarity last year, and two bigs doing so from downtown never happened. Returning forward Ashton Verhulst was the next-highest scorer with 13 points and 2/3 from three-point land. As a team, the Knights had four players hit threes, going 8/24 for the night.

The guards also mixed it up in the paint. Burns scored 10 points by going the bucket and getting to the line, where she was a team-best 5/6. The Knights shot 13 free throws but hit only six, something they look to improve by the season opener.

Some Things Don’t Change

For all the newness from this preseason, UCF fans have at least one recognizable name: Destiny Thomas, who had a double-double with 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

While the aggressiveness of this squad led to a concerning 23 turnovers on offense, the Knights got 11 steals on defense and caused 24 St. Leo turnovers. But the intensity that Knight fans had hoped would hold over from last year’s conference champion squad that looks to be back.

Looking Like the Big 12?

While the focus is now on Winthrop on November 7th and the coming year as UCF’s last in The American, Coach Messer said how close her players were to looking like a Big 12 team.

While this squad obviously has plenty to work on to defend its title, things are certainly looking more encouraging after this outing. The key will be how much polish they can apply to the non-conference portion of the schedule before facing USF and company on their way to a repeat.