Knights look forward despite tough first loss

Courtesy UCF Athletic Communications

Slow starts are nothing new to the UCF women’s basketball team as they started off cold once again in their 67-64 loss to Virginia Tech.

Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson’s solution is simple: she has to be a “crazy woman.”

“They gotta come to my level of expectation, my level of fight, my level of everything,” she said. “Maybe I’ll start the game a crazy woman, get them fired up, get them going.”

The Knights (3-1) suffered their first loss of the season after senior guard Zykira Lewis missed what would have been a game-tying three as time expired. The Hokies (4-0) punished the Knights from deep, hitting 10 threes on 36% shooting.

“We gotta learn how to play to win and not play not to lose a game,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “It’s gonna be a process, it’s gonna be a journey. It’s not gonna be an easy one, that’s for sure, because you gotta change a whole mentality of a whole team.”

The Knights got off to a slow start on offense in the first quarter, shooting 36%, having issues handling the ball with several good passes ending up as turnovers. Despite the poor shooting, UCF had a strong defensive effort, forcing the Hokies into low-percentage shots and preventing inside passes. The Hokies also had several unforced errors, getting called for traveling three times in the quarter. The Knights turned those errors into scoring opportunities, scoring six points off turnovers.

UCF continued to take advantage of turnovers throughout the second quarter. The Knights had forced 11 turnovers by halftime, with Lewis picking off two passes which she quickly turned into easy layups. Despite the stellar defensive effort, holding the Hokies to 36% shooting in the first half, the Knights continued to sputter on offense, missing easy shots below the rim and turning the ball over 10 times. The Knights found themselves down 26-24 at halftime, shooting 32%

“We need to stay focused, come out a little bit harder,” sophomore guard Jamesha Paul said. “I think the biggest thing today was staying focused and listening.”

UCF’s offense finally came to life in the third quarter, scoring 22 points on 61% shooting. Sophomore guard Kayla Thigpen provided a major offensive spark off the bench, scoring seven points in the third, including a buzzer-beating three at the end of the quarter to tie the game 46-46. The Hokies however, also picked up the effort on offense, making four three-pointer to stay in control of the game.

Despite Thigpen’s offensive performance, Abrahamson-Henderson was unhappy with her defensive effort.

“She hit a three and hit some pull ups and that’s what she can do for us but she gotta play defense,” she said. “She can’t give up nine and make five … So I mean and that’s something she’s really working on … she’s gotta really, really pay attention defensively.”

In the fourth quarter, UCF couldn’t take control of the game. Every time the Knights either took the lead or closed the gap, the Hokies would hit a three to jump ahead again. Virginia Tech outscored UCF by three in the fourth quarter and made 54% of their shots from behind the arc.

The Knights will look to improve to 4-1 for the first time since the 2013-14 season when they travel to Butler on Tuesday.