March 19, 2011
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By John Denton
COLUMBUS, OhiAthletics.com) - Junior forward Ashia Kelly has three 3-pointers and 13 points, but 13th-seeded UCF trails fourth-seeded Ohio State 43-33 in the first half of the first round NCAA Tournament game from St. John Arena.
The Knights have had no answer for 6-foot-4 All-American center Jantel Lavender, who has scored 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting for the Buckeyes. Ohio State made 17-of-33 shots (51.3-percent) and three 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes.
UCF has made five 3-pointers in the first half to stay within striking distance. However, the Knights made just 12-of-33 shots and turned the ball over seven times. Jelisa Caldwell, the MVP of last week's Conference USA title game, has six points in the first half for the Knights.
UCF (22-10) is making its fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and the first since 2009 when the Knights fell 85-80 to North Carolina. Four current UCF players were on that 2009 team and credited that experience with calming the team's nerves for Saturday's game at Ohio State.
The 13th-seeded Knights, champions of the Conference USA tournament last week in El Paso, entered the NCAA Tournament as the winners of 11 consecutive games. Ohio State, winners of the Big 10 Championship each of the past three seasons, has won nine games in a row.
The first-round game is pitting two of the largest schools in the country by enrollment. UCF has 56,235 students, while Ohio State has 56,064 students on its massive campus.
It wasn't so much Ohio State's size as it was its quickness that bothered UCF in the first half. The Knights turned the ball over seven times early on - many of them leading to run-out buckets for the Buckeyes.
UCF started the game with a wave emotion and made it to the first media timeout leading 10-9. Kelly, one of UCF's best players last week in the C-USA tournament, hit two 3-pointers in the game's first three minutes to give the Knights an early lead.
UCF did a good job of smothering Lavender early on, but that commitment inside eventually led to Ohio State finding holes in the defense. Two quick 3-pointers by Brittany Johnson came in 12-0 run that put Ohio State up 21-12 and forced UCF into a timeout.
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John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.