The UCF women’s basketball team had not won a home game since Dec. 20, but the Knights came out with a strong defensive performance Tuesday to lift them to a conference home win over the Cincinnati Bearcats 64-44.
Behind junior guard Aliyah Gregory’s 22-point performance, the Knights (13-7, 3-4 AAC) found their rhythm more and more as the game went on. But it was their defensive grit that stood out and ultimately made the difference.
Forcing three Cincinnati turnovers in the opening three minutes of the game, UCF came out hustling early on. After falling to the Bearcats (14-6, 5-2) earlier this season, the Knights were prepared to do whatever it took to get the job done.
“We came out this time and we just said, ‘no mercy’,” redshirt senior forward Joslyn Massey said. “We needed to come out hard and no matter what just fight for each other.”
The Knights trailed going into the second quarter, but senior guard Zykira Lewis provided a spark off the bench, accounting for three steals in a row that resulted in six points. Head Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson was pleased with how her players showed up defensively in the game.
“It’s always the little things that matter,” she said. “When we play good defense like this, we are usually very successful.”
After hitting a jump shot at the buzzer to end the first half, UCF started the third quarter with a 28-27 lead. It was there where Gregory started to put on a show, scoring 10 points in the quarter to stretch the Knights’ lead.
“I think tonight everybody came out and played their role on the court and tonight my role was knocking down free-throws and putting down the shots that I had,” Gregory said. “I am more than happy that I could help out my team.”
UCF went on to outscore Cincinnati 20-6 in the fourth quarter and also outrebounded the Bearcats 40-19 throughout the entire game.
“Everyone always wants to play offense, so it’s really hard to teach young players that defense is what wins games,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “We are trying our hardest to build that culture here at UCF. It’s always going to be about defense first.”
While Gregory had a huge performance, the Knights’ win was not even the highlight of her day. Earlier that morning, she got the chance to meet NBA All-star Dwayne Wade of the Chicago Bulls, who was in town to play the Orlando Magic. When asked about how special that moment was, Gregory could not help but crack a smile.
“It’s not every day that you get to see an NBA All-star walking through campus. It was very cool. Stuff like that only happens at UCF.”
UCF will look to gain another conference win as the team travels to play Memphis on Jan. 28.