UCF Knights Women’s Basketball started strong in their Big 12 opener in Norman, Oklahoma on January 30th, but ended up losing by 17 to the Sooners. The question for Knight Nation was what version of the Knights would they get hosting the Oklahoma State Cowgirls at Addition Financial Arena for the conference home opener. While they lost 68-61 to their visitors, the bright side was a marked improvement in their performance.
Physical Play in the Paint
Just looking at the Knights' Achol Akot and the Cowgirls’ Hannah Gusters as two of the frontcourt players, you expect physical play and battling in the paint. However, they were not the only ones fighting and battling on the floor. Fortunately for the Knights’ they drew fouls early and often to get to the free-throw line hitting all eight of their first-half attempts and finishing 15-of-18 for night.
Kaitlin Peterson made her mark early turning in eight of her 22 points for the evening in the first 20 minutes to help keep the Knights within four at the half 26-22. Peterson also finished the game tying for a team-high six rebounds.
OK-State’s Stailee Heard was the tip of the arrow for the Cowgirls perimeter attack in the first half. She finished with 14 points shooting connecting on two of her five shots from beyond the arc making both in that period.
The Cowgirls’ Stampede Tramples a Valiant Effort.
For all of Peterson’s impact in the contest, Achol Akot was also an important factor. Two of her six points gave the Knights their first lead of the game in the 3rd quarter. Akot’s presence under the rim was undeniable as the other Knight to snag six rebounds. The young forward’s contribution enabled UCF to pull down 37 compared to Oklahoma’s 38 rebounds.
Achot fouled out with eight minutes left in the contest, but the bench players minimized the adversity caused by this. Morgan Robinson-Nwagwu and Khyala Ngodu combined for 20 points. Robinson was the second-highest scorer with 12 and the team leader in assists with five while playing for only 26 minutes.
However, the Cowgirls would stonewall the Knights late in the game holding them to making only one shot in their final eight. With five minutes left, Oklahoma State went on a 15-4 run led by Anna Gret Asi who scored 13 of her 16 points in the second half.
A Wild Matchup
The tests only get harder for the now 9-3 Knights who will battle a #11 Kansas State Wildcats squad this Saturday in Orlando. After the game, head coach Sytia Messer talked about improvement and toughness she appreciated from the first conference game to the next, but the Wildcats are a challenge.
“The thing we’ll definitely have to get ready for is defending the three,” said Messer. “. . . We’ve got to step up and hit some shots; we got to make shots and we got to rebound the ball”. Knight Nation will certainly remain hopeful that their first conference win comes on January 6th at 2:00 pm EDT.