After celebrating their 10th-straight win to close out the regular season and becoming ranked for the first time in program history, the 25# UCF Knights took care of business in topping the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, 69-54 after their first-round bye in the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
No Shooting? No Problem
The Knights got off to a slow start on offense that UCF fans have grown to know and loathe. They finished the first quarter shooting 25% from the field. The only support that the American Conference Player and Defensive Player of the Year Diamond Battles had on the scoreboard early on was in putbacks by the Sixth Player of the Year forward Britney Smith and team captain forward Masseny Kaba and single free throws from center Destiny Thomas and guard Tay Sanders. Battles finished the contest with 11 points from the guard position.
Even with Tulsa’s forward and the American’s Freshman of the Year Temira Poindexter hitting her first three attempts from beyond the arc, UCF led 13-12 after the first 10 minutes of play. A lot of that can be attributed to the Knights dominating the glass with 23 rebounds compared to Tulsa’s two.
The Knights concluded the outing with 50 boards while the Golden Hurricane couldn’t do enough damage on the glass to match UCF’s first-quarter total as they finished with only 20.
Tulsa Lived and Died by the 3
In both this game and their season finale last Wednesday, Tulsa’s gameplan acknowledged that UCF is a force in the paint. Their strategy was to deny and double team the post on defense while moving the ball to find the open shot from downtown on offense. If anyone wondered what it meant for a basketball team to “chuck it from the cheap seats”, just watch the Golden Hurricane’s Poindexter and guard Wyvette Mayberry.
Poindexter finished the afternoon with 12 points while Mayberry was good for 13. As a team, Tulsa finished with 12-of-34 on three-point shots.
That being said, it was trying to slow UCF’s play in the paint that slowed the attack from the arc. Mayberry and Poindexter were on the bench as UCF pulled away for an eight-point run in the 3rd quarter. Both of them got into foul trouble in their efforts to combat Kaba and Smith. Later in that same quarter, the Knights continued to build onto that momentum to head into the final quarter with a 10-point run. From that time on, UCF never looked back.
For all the Golden Hurricane’s efforts to knock the post off course, Masseny Kaba finished with a career-high 23 points while Smith off the bench put in 19 as well as 10 rebounds to finish with the double-double.
Smith and Sanders fished with a combined 20 rebounds to match the total for their opponents in that category.
Survive and Move On
With their victory secured today, UCF will be facing their next opponent in the SMU Mustangs at 5:00 pm EST on Wednesday to continue play in the American Tourney. SMU is a team that UCF has yet to face thanks to a COVID-related postponement for the Mustangs in January. With mystery and unpredictability as a factor, one can argue they might be a bigger threat than even the USF Bulls.