The 7th Seeded UCF Knights took the floor in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in Storrs, Connecticut with so much fresh history written. They won the American Athletic Conference Regular Season and Tournament, achieved the highest ranking in program history, and claimed their school’s first victory at “The Dance”. Unfortunately for UCF fans, it’s time for the ink to dry in the archives as they lost to 2nd seeded UConn, 52-47
Big First-Half Charges by Huskies and Knights
While UConn opened the scoring for the contest, UCF took the lead quickly and led for the rest of the first quarter with an 18-12 score after the first 10 minutes. This featured a four-point play by American Conference Player and Defensive Player of the Year Diamond Battles who got fouled while sinking a three-pointer and made the continuation.
In addition to Battles scoring six of her 12 points on the night, the Knights front court managed to hold serve on the glass with 11 boards over UConn’s 10. Brittney Smith and Masseny Kaba were battling hard in the paint with a Huskies team that clearly oversized the Knights.
In the second quarter, UConn was able to swing the pendulum back the other way. After being knocked off balance early by tenacious defense from their visiting opponents, they found their poise and found themselves getting to the foul line for 13 of their total 23 attempts before heading to the locker room. Not only did it produce nine of their first-half points, but because of it, American Conference Sixth Player of the Year Brittney “Buckets” Smith and Knights team captain Masseny Kaba got into early foul trouble.
Not only did this impact UCF’s ability to light up the scoreboard, but it also weakened their defensive presence in the paint. The Knights only had five points in the second quarter and while they allowed only two field goals, UConn’s nine points from free throws would give them the 28-23 halftime lead.
Within One Possession . . .
Heading into the third quarter, the two squads exchanged baskets early, but then UConn’s Azzi Fudd and Christyn Williams began to take the game over as their frontcourt began to run into foul trouble of their own. While Aaliyah Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa would foul out before the contest was done, there was a 10-point run that took the Huskies into the 4th quarter that made it seem like UCF was done.
However, down 12 points with less than 5:00 on the clock after UConn’s Paige Buecker sank a big three-pointer as part of her nine-point performance, Tay Sanders and Smith lit a spark that led to an 8-0 run. The Knights had it to within three with less than 2:00 minutes in the game but ran out of time as the Huskies held on to win.
UCF was unable to overcome their issues at the charity stripe. While UConn only had three more trips to the foul line than the Knights’ 20, they only hit 10 compared to the Huskies' 18.
Heads Held High
While the elimination from March Madness marks the end of an iconic 2021-2022 season of UCF Knights Women’s Basketball, this is a team that many will talk about for years to come. Over and above all the accolades they earned, this is the closest that UCF has gotten to beating Connecticut as a top-flight power in the sport.
In the future, UCF will surely miss Sanders, Kaba, and Smith from their starting lineup who finished with 10, 5, and 11 points respectively, but the return of Diamond Battles, Alisha Lewis, and Destiny Thomas as starters on the floor leading developing players under the American's Coach of the Year Katie Abrahamson-Henderson is an encouraging concept for the Black and Gold as the program makes its way into the Big 12 conferences in the near future.