April 20, 2011
By Pat Salvas
The UCF women's basketball team enjoyed its best season in nearly three decades in 2010-11. Posting a 22-11 record and winning their second Conference USA Championship in three years, the Knights truly enjoyed a memorable ride that led them all the way back to the NCAA Tournament. Here is the list of their top 10 games from this past season.
1. C-USA Title Game - March 12
Was there any doubt that this would be the top game of the season? One year after being bounced from the Conference USA Championship by Tulane in the quarterfinals, the Knights exacted their revenge on the Green Wave by claiming their second title in three years and spoiling Tulane's hopes of a repeat with this 85-73 victory. Senior Jelisa Caldwell's first career double-double (27 points, 12 rebounds) earned her C-USA Championship MVP honors, but it was a total-team effort that helped the Knights lift their second league championship trophy as a season-high six players scored in double figures in the contest.
2. C-USA Quarterfinals vs. UAB - March 10
With a season-low 12 points in the first half of the C-USA Quarterfinals against UAB, UCF's season appeared to be in great jeopardy of ending earlier than expected in its first game in El Paso. But an impassioned halftime speech from head coach Joi Williams lit a fire under her team, leading to a massive turnaround in the second half. The Knights came out looking like a different team for the final 20 minutes of play, outscoring the Blazers 39-20 and outrebounding them, 25-13. That surge in the second-half overcame the worst 20 minutes of play of the season to start the game and eventually led to the 51-47 win and a spot in the semifinals.
3. Win over UTEP - Feb. 10
This game may be defined by the last play, but take away Gevenia Carter's halfcourt buzzer beater to win and this was still one of the most entertaining games of the season. UCF had a 12-point halftime lead slowly vanish before falling behind by five in the final two minutes of play. Eight points in the final minutes and a season-high 26 points from senior guard Chelsie Wiley helped the Knights tie the game at 65-65 with just 4.6 seconds to play. Caldwell inbounded the ball in the backcourt and, after picking up a screen from Ashia Kelly at the far free-throw line, Carter was able to push the ball up the floor. Getting just past halfcourt, the sophomore reserve put up a long heave that found nothing but the bottom of the net. After an initial review from the referees, it was determined that Carter had in fact released the ball prior to the clock expiring for the game-winning basket, 68-65.
4. Senior Night - March 3
After suffering one of the worst losses of the year earlier in the season at Memphis, the Knights rode a seven-game win streak into its final regular season game of the season against the Tigers on March 3. Five seniors were honored for their dedication to the program following the game, but it was the play of the Knights during the game that was the real statement. Building the lead to as many as 24 points in the second half, UCF demonstrated to the rest of the league headed into the tournament that they were a team poised for a deep run. It was also this game that set the stage for another meeting with the Tigers in the semifinals. But perhaps the most memorable moment of the night came as junior Aisha Patrick removed her shooting shirt during starting lineups to reveal that she was wearing the No. 3 uniform of injured senior Angelica Mealing rather than her own No. 10 jersey.
5. Jacksonville - Dec. 20
How can a nonconference, midseason game crack the list? Well, if there was any game early in the season that showed the offense prowess the Knights were capable of heading into the stretch run, it was this one. Caldwell exploded for a career-high 30 points to help lead the Knights to a 92-59 win over the Dolphins at UCF Arena. The 30-point performance was the first by any member of the Knights in two seasons as Caldwell had eclipsed her previous career high of 20 points in the first half alone. UCF went over the 90-point mark for the first time in three years as four players scored in double figures. For her efforts against the Dolphins, Caldwell was honored as the C-USA Player of the Week for the first time in her career.
6. at Rice - Jan. 6
The Knights opened the C-USA schedule with a total-team effort to defeat Rice on the road. D'Nay Daniels and Aisha Patrick scored 21 points apiece as the Knights went into Tudor Fieldhouse to earn the 86-68 win. The victory was more than just the first of a record 12 C-USA wins for UCF, it also marked the 100th in the head coaching career of Joi Williams. A sign of things to come, UCF's defense held C-USA Freshman of the Year and member of the All-C-USA First Team Jessica Kuster to just 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the game. Kuster, an 11-time C-USA Freshman of the Week recipient and just the second freshman ever to earn a spot on the league's First Team, was held to one of her lowest point totals of the season by a stifling Knights' defense that forced 20 turnovers and recorded 16 steals.
7. vs. Tulane - Feb. 17
If the win in the C-USA Championship Game was the culmination of a year's worth of frustration, this regular-season tilt with Tulane was the first punch in a heavy-weight bout. UCF had been waiting nearly a year to play the Green Wave again after losing a late-game, one-point lead to them the year prior in the league's postseason. With the score of that game written on the white board as motivation, the Knights went out and proved they were the toughest team in C-USA. Trailing by 10 with seven minutes to play, the Knights forced the Green Wave to overtime where they took care of business for the 73-69 victory. Patrick's determined play of 15 points and a career-high 15 rebounds help the UCF to its biggest comeback to-date, setting the stage for the rematch in El Paso the following month.
8. at Tulsa - Feb. 6
In hindsight it appears to be a game between the second-place regular season team and conference tournament champion and the last-place team that was bounced from the league tourney after just one game. However, it was this game that changed the whole course of the Knights' season. Prior to leaving for Tulsa, UCF Athletics Director Keith Tribble sat down with the entire UCF team for a 90-minute session. Here, Tribble laid out what he expected of each member of the team so that the collective goal could be achieved. He made each player accountable for their actions and play on the court, telling the underclassmen not to let the seniors end their careers without giving them their proper due. That speech led to UCF's 11-game win streak that stretched from Super Bowl Sunday in Tulsa all the way to March 12 in El Paso with the Knights storming the court in celebration.
9. C-USA Semifinals vs. Memphis - March 11
No one will argue that a terrible loss is fuel for a team. But after handling Memphis by 18 points just eight days before in the regular season finale, some wondered if the Knights would have the same motivation against them in the C-USA Semifinals. The thought being it would be the second game against the same opponent in three overall contests for the Knights, and after such a convincing win the last time, many thought The Knights were already thinking about the finals. That wavering question of doubt was answered rather quickly as UCF jumped out to an early lead that they never relinquished, leading the entire game en route to another 18-point victory, 81-63, to secure a spot in the league title game. Led by Wiley's 21 points, five players scored in double figures as the Knights illustrated the team mentality used throughout its championship run.
10. NCAA Tournament at Ohio State - March 19
The only loss on the list gets a pass as it marks UCF's return to the NCAA Tournament. Facing the three-time defending Big Ten Champions from Ohio State on their "home court" in Columbus and against one of the nation's top players in Jantel Lavender, UCF had a statement game. Not many analysts gave the Knights a shot heading into the matchup, but despite being undersized and playing in front of a hostile crowd, UCF put up a fight that drew admiration from around the league. The Buckeyes defeated the Knights, 81-69, to end UCF's season, but a second appearance in the NCAA Tournament in three years and another strong showing against one of the nation's top teams has the Knights headed in the right direction.
Check back with UCFathletics.com in the coming weeks to see more Top 10 lists from the women's basketball 2010-11 season.