The Wildcats (15-1, 3-0 Big 12) extended their winning streak to nine games, thanks to jumping out to a 19-point lead at the half, making twice as many field goals as UCF (9-4, 0-3 Big 12) to that point. They proceeded to fend off the Knights for the rest of the second half, keeping their lead in the double digits.
“I think you have to give your opponent credit,” head coach Sytia Messer said after the game. “Kansas State is a really good team. I mean, they can beat you in multiple ways, in the inside interior with [Ayoka] Lee and then just the ability to go off the dribble and shoot threes, so it’s a really good team.”
The Wildcats also used their size to their advantage, blocking nine shots, the most any team has blocked the Knights so far this season, and scoring almost as many points in the paint (52) as UCF had over the entire game (56). While 2022 All-American center Ayoka Lee won the battle at the boards with six rebounds, guards Serena Sundell and Jaelyn Glenn led the way for Kansas State offensively, going 10-14 for 22 points and 7-7 from the floor for 16 points respectively.
“I think our guards did a great job with getting downhill,” Kansas State head coach Jeff Mittie said. “That was the one thing that we felt like, the way people are defending Lee right now, they want bodies on Lee constantly and that means that we’re going to have opportunities to drive the ball against a team that they want to keep constant contact with Lee.”
Winning the Second Half
However, despite their first-half woes and still getting outscored in the paint, UCF kept pace with the Wildcats in the second half, winning both the third quarter, 14-13, and the fourth quarter, 19-17.
The Knights edged out Wildcats by keeping them away from the free-throw line (0-1), themselves going 6-10, and winning the points off turnovers battle, 8-4. Kansas State had 11 points off of turnovers compared to UCF’s two in the first half.
“We really just chose to fight regardless of the score,” guard Laila Jewett said. “I think that was the biggest change. We just chose not to look at the score and just go out there and play basketball.”
KP: No Matter the Sitch
Leading the way for the Knights in their second-half surge was guard Kaitlin Peterson, scoring 15 of her 22 points in the game’s latter 20 minutes. It’s the sixth time this season she has scored more than 20 points in a game.
“Yeah, we didn’t defend her very well, certainly in the second half,” Mittie said. “I didn't like the fact she got loose off a lot of their screening action, but she’s a good player, got a quick trigger, hard to defend. She can score in a variety of ways.”
It helped that Peterson shot 23 of the 55 total UCF shot attempts on the night. Now, with the season approaching its halfway point, she accounts for 30% of the team’s total field goal attempts and 29.5% of its total points.
In individual terms, Peterson has more than double the shot attempts and just under double the points as the player with the second-highest numbers in both categories, guard Mya Burns.
“We depend on KP and we ask her to make shots,” Messer said. “I run a lot of plays for her to shoot. So, she’s doing what we’re asking her and I’m impressed with her hard work ethic and what she’s doing, of course we’ll get her some more help and being able to help us in the inside, but I’m completely fine with her and what she’s doing.”
While the loss dropped the Knights to #95 in the NET rankings, they will have another chance to pick up their first Big 12 conference win as they travel to take on Cincinnati on Wednesday at 6 p.m. The last time these two teams faced off in Ohio, UCF pulled out a 60-57 victory.
The Bearcats (8-6, 0-3 Big 12), ranked #99 in the NET rankings, will also enter the match winless in conference play thanks to the worst offense in the Big 12, averaging 64.3 points per game. Though, the Knights’ offense is less than two points better on average at 66 points.
They reach the free-throw line often, sporting the most free throws made per game in the Big 12 (16.57) and the second-most free-throw attempts per game (22.43). Leading the way in this regard is forward Jillian Hayes, who ranks 20th in the nation and second in the Big 12 in free throws (66).
“It’s okay to, like, stay with a team, but we’re good enough to just beat a team in the first half and keep it that way,” forward Achol Akot said. “I think, right now, we’re settling and I don’t think we’re a team that should be settling. I think we can beat a team in the first half and keep that throughout the end.”
“So, I think with Cincinnati, we got to beat them in the first half and keep it that way.”