The UCF Knights Women’s Basketball team is in Dallas this week for the American Athletic Conference Championship Tournament, and they found out Monday that several of them will be taking home hardware regardless of the result.
It’s a great cap to a regular season that may go down as the best in school history, culminating in the Knights breaking into the AP Top 25 at #25, along with a #23 ranking in the Coaches’ Poll.
UCF dominated the major postseason awards, which were announced Monday. At the top of the list was Diamond Battles, who won the conference Player of the Year Award, as well as Defensive Player of the Year, and was a unanimous selection for All-AAC First Team.
UCF shared the moment she found out:
These reactions are everything— UCF Knights (@UCFKnights) March 7, 2022
When @UCF_WBB learned who won major @American_Conf awards for the 2021-22 season pic.twitter.com/KlmjqhmD2J
It was a particularly great moment for Battles, who was carried from the floor during last year’s first round loss in the NCAA Tournament with what looked like a catastrophic knee injury. While we never really found out the extend of that injury, it’s clear from her performance this season that she was no worse for the wear.
Battles is the first UCF Women’s Basketball player to win a conference player of the year award since Chariya Davis won TAAC Player of the Year back in the 1998-99 season.
Of course, as the video showed, Diamond wasn’t the only UCF player to win an award during the Knights’ best season arguably in program history. Masseny Kaba and Tay Sanders were both named to the All-AAC Third Team, and Brittney Smith was named Sixth Player of the Year.
But perhaps the most satisfying reaction was saved for head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who finally won AAC Coach of the Year. It’s the first time she’s won that honor since coming to UCF from Albany, where she won America East Coach of the Year three times. She is also the first UCF coach to win Coach of the Year since Joi Williams did it in C-USA in 2009.
Coach Abe has guided UCF to 20+ wins every season except last year, and that was only because the Knights faced an abbreviated schedule due to the COVID pandemic. It’s a fitting, if somewhat belated, tribute to the woman who has guided UCF to its first conference regular season title in 17 years.
The Real Season Begins
UCF’s business is not done, as the Knights begin the AAC Tournament Tuesday in Fort Worth. As regular season champs, the Knights are the 1-seed, and will face 8-seed Tulsa at 1 p.m. UCF beat Tulsa by 13 in the regular season finale in Orlando last Wednesday.
The Golden Hurricane needed overtime to beat 9-seed Wichita State 88-86 on Monday, so chances are they are coming in quite tired, while UCF has had six days of rest prior to the tournament.
Should UCF move on, they would play the winner of 4-seed Temple vs. 5-seed SMU, which takes place right after the Knights’ game with Tulsa.
UCF is looking for its first conference tournament championship since 2011 in Conference USA. Should they do that, it would mark UCF’s first double (winning the conference regular season and tournament title in the same year) since 1999, when Lynn Bria was the head coach. Bria would go on to Ohio University the following season, opening the door for Gail Striegler, who was the last UCF head coach to win a conference regular season title prior to Coach Abe.
The Knights have been to the AAC Championship Game twice in the previous three seasons, losing to UConn in 2019, 66-45, and again last year to South Florida, 64-54.
This Is March
The Knights’ NET ranking is currently 22, and at 22-3 with a 14-1 conference record, that should be more than good enough to get the Knights an at-large bid even if they slip up in Fort Worth. But it’s clear that the goal is to win the tournament, and then see what happens in the NCAAs.
UCF has never won an NCAA Tournament game in six tries in its history. The closest the Knights came was 2009, when the then-C-USA champions lost to 3-seed North Carolina, 85-80, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Last year, UCF was the 10-seed in the Alamo Region (the highest seed in school history), but lost to 7-seed Northwestern, 62-51, in San Antonio:
This year, ESPN Bracketologist Charlie Creme has UCF in as an 8-seed.
While this may seem disappointing, should UCF win the conference tournament and get a favorable draw, they could be a tasty sleeper on everyone’s bracket, given how they are the nation’s leader in scoring defense at 48.1 points allowed per game (which would stand as the tenth-lowest points per game allowed average for an entire season in NCAA Division I history), and their field goal percentage defense (33.4% allowed), which is second-best in the nation behind Dawn Staley’s #1-ranked South Carolina team.
A first NCAA Tournament victory in program history would be one hell of a feather in Coach Abe’s cap. But first things first, and that means taking care of Tulsa on Tuesday.
Tip-off for the Knights’ AAC Tournament Quarterfinal against Tulsa in Fort Worth is set for 1 p.m. ET om ESPN+. Follow us at @UCFBanneret_SBN for all the latest.