When the UCF women’s basketball team first began conference play back in early January, it looked like the Knights could be in for a rough season. They dropped four of their first six conference games and didn’t appear to have a shot at making waves in the conference tournament.
However, with the tournament now less than a week away, the Knights are hitting their stride at the perfect time. UCF blew out SMU 63-37 on Saturday, earning its sixth win in a row.
“We’re playing really well at the end of the season which is the most important time,” junior guard Aliyah Gregory said. “And we’re playing well headed into the conference tournament so it’s just a lot of momentum and it’s very good for us.”
UCF (19-9, 9-6 AAC) started the game out with impressive performances on both ends of the court. On offense, the Knights had an easy time getting open for jump shots and also managed to score on contested looks. They finished the quarter shooting 62% from the field.
UCF was also dominant on defense. SMU (15-13, 6-9) had a difficult time holding on to the ball, turning it over six times in the quarter. Senior guard Zykira Lewis was effective on defense throughout the game, forcing turnovers and converting on fast break opportunities.
“Zy came out right away and was getting some great steals and playing great defense,” head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said.
Lewis finished the game with 24 points and with six steals.
In the second quarter, UCF had one of its best defensive performances of the season. The Mustangs just couldn’t get open as the Knights constantly pestered ball handlers. SMU made just one of its nine shot attempts in the quarter and turned the ball over eight times.
UCF took advantage of those turnovers, consistently scoring in transition to build their lead. The Knights scored 20 points in the quarter while holding the Mustangs to just six points, going into halftime with a 24-point lead.
“They scored seven points, six points in the first two quarters,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “I mean that just makes a statement right away.”
Coming out of halftime, UCF had to deal with a much more committed SMU defense. The Knights, who had made a number of shots with ease just a quarter earlier, couldn’t get around the Mustangs, turning the ball over frequently and being forced into contested shot attempts. UCF also turned the ball over six times.
UCF also couldn’t maintain its defensive performance from the first half. SMU scored 19 points in the third quarter, six more points than it had in the entire first half.
“We have to stress defense no matter what,” Gregory said. “In the third quarter, we kind of let up and we weren’t playing our rules, we weren’t playing solid defense and they came out and scored.”
Although they were struggling on defense, the Knights were still able to take an 18-point lead into the fourth quarter thanks to their huge halftime lead.
Despite a shaky performance in the third, UCF started off the fourth quarter with a 10-3 run, stretching their lead to 25 and putting the game away early. UCF went on to win by 26 and finished the game shooting 52% from the field while holding SMU to 31% shooting and just 8% from beyond the arc.
UCF will take on Temple at home in its final game of the season on Monday night.
Christian Simmons is the assistant sports editor for the Central Florida Focus. Follow him on Twitter at @ByCASimmons. You can also email him at ChristianS@centralfloridafocus.com.