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UCF Women’s Hoops Charges Out of the Gate with 72-32 Win Over Winthrop

In the first win under head coach Sytia Messer, the Knights clipped the Eagles’ wings in dominant fashion.

#42 Ashton Verhulst celebrates during the season opener against Winthrop.
Noah Goldberg

After a strong showing against St. Leo’s in an exhibition eight days ago, UCF Knights Women’s Hoops dominated again in their regular season debut by de-feathering the Eagles of Winthrop, 72-32. With Asia Todd out due to injury, Kansas State transfer Rachel Ranke slid into the starting five at guard along with former Georgia Southern guard Mya Burns. Veterans in guard Laila Jewitt and center Destiny Thomas also opened the contest along with true freshman Bryana Hardy rounding out the first five. It was fitting that Hardy had a big night with rookie head coach Sytia Messer taking her team to 1-0 on the season.

Bryana Working Hardy

With a solid showing in the exhibition, Hardy rose to the occasion in the Knights’ debut putting up 14 points in the half as the first to double digits in the contest. While Messer came out with a veteran presence in the exhibition, Hardy stepping up big early to contribute with forward Nay Hutton still sidelined with a leg injury was a huge element in the team’s success.

The presence inside by the newcomer wasn’t the only surprise for UCF fans. They finished on the perimeter with 11-for-30 from downtown. Representing another freshman with double-digit scoring, Tiani Abrams finished with 12. She took all seven of her shots from three-point land and hit four of them while snagging five rebounds. Matching the five rebounds that Abrams had, returning forward Ashton Verhulst also went 3-for-5 from downtown as part of her 11-point evening.

This team making 11 three-pointers is amazing in itself compared to last season’s bunch, but as a team, it could be a fortnight before seeing that iconic 2021-22 squad team shoot the ball from distance 30 times.

Rebounding Strong is Still This Team’s Destiny

After finishing the regular season in March with a double-double Thomas, the woman coach Messer calls “Old Faithful”, opened the season to continue the streak turning in 12 points with 11 boards. However, she had plenty of help cleaning the glass throughout the contest.

Hardy added seven rebounds on the stat sheet, but Ranke had the second-most on the squad with nine. While she may have gone cold missing seven threes after opening the game with the team’s first six points, she was still an impact as the team pushed four to the glass after every shot.

Still Some Work To Do

When asked what her Knights need to do better heading into Thursday’s contest hosting Mercer, coach Messer answered in a single word without hesitation — “Turnovers”. Tonight UCF had 26 which was three more than the exhibition against St. Leo.

Another area of focus will be free throws. The Knights finished 7-for-12 from the charity stripe. The downside of chucking it from the cheap seats as Messer’s squad seems apt to do so far is fewer trips to the charity stripe. This means when those opportunities come, it’s all the more important to knock them down. That being said, Messer also gave credit where it was due to her squad in how many points they put up despite those shortcomings.