Since November at UCF Hoops Media Day and possibly beyond, the players and staff for the #25 UCF Knights declared their ultimate goal for the season was to win the American Athletic Conference tournament. After a first-round bye and a pair of dominant tourney wins, the Knights would have an opportunity to take the USF Bulls by the horns for the third time this season in a conference final rematch to accomplish their mission in a 53-45 slugfest.
This marks the program’s first American tournament title ever and their first conference tournament title since 2011 C-USA title. The 2022 Knights become first UCF Women Basketball team since 1999 to win regular season and conference tournament title in the same year.
The Bulls and Knights Both Charged Early
The game plan for both sides focused around limiting their primary frontcourt players. In the first half, the Bulls center Bethy Mununga had four points and six rebounds while the Knights captain and forward Masseny Kaba turned in six points and five boards of her own.
The big stat that jumps off the line in that time is Mununga’s four assists. While USF was intimidated to miss layups early by UCF’s defense, the attention Mununga drew set up the Bulls forward Shae Leverett to turn in six first half points. Leverett finished with 10 points while Mununga finished with seven.
The good news for the Knights heading into the locker room down for the first time in the tournament 26-24 was that they contained shooting from behind the arc. The Bulls were only able to get four three-point attempts off while making two. American Conference Play and Defensive Player of the year had seven points in the first 20 minutes.
40 Minutes of Battle(s)
As the game wore on, both sides continued to slog through seven lead changes, eight ties, and 6:01 of the contest locked in a draw.
USF guard Elena Tsineke found openings throughout the game to finish with a team-high 14 points, but the Bulls struggled in the final quarter finishing 2-of-12 from the field with only six points. This came after scoring 13 in each of the previous quarters.
But it was Kaba rejecting Munuga with 1:30 left on the clock and Knights point guard Alisha Lewis giving up her body recovering the loose ball that marked the beginning of the end. Kabe turned in nine points, nine rebounds while Lewis recorded seven assists.
DIAMOND BATTLES FROM THE LOGO pic.twitter.com/9VO9mwYhhM— American WBB (@American_WBB) March 11, 2022
While UCF was 2-of-11 from the field for the final 10 minutes of play, they also racked up 12 points from the charity stripe. That’s after failing to make it to the free throw for the entire opening half. Most of those came from Conference Player and Defensive Player of the Year Diamond Battles. Battles took over the game in key moments taking heavy contact on several occasions while putting up 17 points and locking up the Most Outstanding Player honors for the tournament.
Time To Go Dancing
With the conference championship in the rearview, UCF still has plenty to look forward to with Selection Sunday this weekend determining their placement in the NCAA Tournament.
If all goes as currently projected and UCF Women’s Basketball does secure the 8th seed or higher in the bracket, that will mark even more history made in this iconic season.