2005-06 Women's Basketball Preview

Nov. 8, 2005

ORLANDO - After winning three consecutive Atlantic Sun Conference Championships, the UCF women's basketball team steps onto the national stage with the move to Conference USA. The Golden Knights are ready for the challenge.

"This team has a tremendous amount of chemistry," said two-time Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year Gail Striegler, who is in her seventh year at the helm. "We have an interesting mix of flashy and blue-collar players. They all just want to be a part of this team and will do whatever it takes to win because they feel like they have something to prove."

Both players and coaches realize that the competition in C-USA is going to be a step up, but Striegler believes that the key to the team's success lies in its chemistry. "We have a lot of skilled players on this team and they genuinely care for each other," she said. "That will take us farther than talent alone."


The Golden Knight backcourt is experienced in both directing plays and sinking baskets. At the top of the key are seniors Shayla Smith and LaShay King, who have logged time in more than150 games over the past three years. Smith earned the starting point guard role as a freshman and has continued to improve her outside shooting, which enables her to be a versatile offensive threat. She has secured spots in UCF's record books in both three-point shooting and assist categories.

Although King has been known for her work at the point thanks to her passing and creative playmaking skills, this year her shooting will enable the Golden Knights to have more flexibility in the lineup.

"Although we can't start both, we can play them interchangeably," said Striegler. "The team is definitely going to look to LaShay and Shayla to score more this year in addition to directing the offense with the same capability they have shown in the past."

Junior Lashaunda Slade enjoyed a spectacular sophomore year as she started 19 of the 29 contests at the point. The coaching staff expects that she will continue to improve and provide even more leadership on the court.

On the wings, the Golden Knights will rely on proven shooting of senior Celeste Hudson and junior Francine Houston. Hudson, the 2005 Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Year, is talented on both ends of the court and a formidable threat behind the arc. She is the UCF record holder for most treys made (157) and attempted (429), while she is ranked third all-time in the school record books with a .366 shooting percentage from three-point range.

Although Hudson missed the final three contests of the season due to injury and was sidelined by rehabilitation during the summer, Striegler knows she will return to full strength by the season opener.

"Celeste can do it all," said Striegler. "She can take it to the rack and knock down the outside shot. She is a great passer as well as one of our best defensive players."

Houston, meanwhile, added some versatility to her arsenal and improved upon her ball-handling and defensive skills in the off-season. She was second on the team behind Hudson in three-point shooting in 2004-05 as she hit 53-of-162 shots (.327). Her new skills will enable her to be even more effective on the court.

"We have two reliable outside shooters in Celeste and Francine, but I don't think anyone can say we are purely an outside shooting team," said Striegler. "If they are defending our shooting guards, we'll have to work the ball inside. The key to a successful offense is to keep opponents guessing."

Hudson could also see some time at small forward along with fellow senior Shelby Weber and junior Keunta Miles. Weber enjoyed a breakout year in 2004-05 as she started 28 of the 29 contests. She is a versatile player, who will see time at the No. 3 spot or the post.

Seeing action in all 29 games a year ago, Miles provides even more depth at that position when she isn't playing in the paint.

Sophomore Amber Long, who redshirted last season after transferring from LSU, has the opportunity to prove herself and will most likely fit at the No. 2 or No. 3 position. Striegler calls Long "an intriguing player".

"Amber is solid defensively and also has a good-looking shot on the outside. We'll really look to her to fill some of the gaps up top," she said.


Down low, the Golden Knights have several newcomers in addition to veterans like Weber and Miles that will be challenging one another for starting roles. While she is effective at the No. 3 spot, Weber transforms into a different player with her back to the basket.

"When we moved Shelby inside, she became an offensive force," said Striegler. "She has the ability to make a real impact on the court. She stepped up her game last year and she's done it again during the preseason. Shelby will to be one of the keys to our team's success."

UCF will also be looking for Miles to have a big year. Striegler calls Miles one of the most improved players out of the preseason. No matter where she plays, she can have an impact.

Meanwhile, sophomore Courtney Stroud has worked to return to game shape after being sidelined by injury for the past two seasons. Her physical play under the basket will be a real asset to the team.

The coaching staff also recruited two freshmen and two junior college transfers to fill the shoes of Ali Roberts and Takira Allen, who graduated in 2005 as members of both the 500-rebound and 1,000-point clubs.

Elizabeth Fieser comes to Orlando from Dodge City Community College. At 6-1, her skills allow her to play against players who might be larger than her. "She is going to do whatever she needs to do to grab a rebound and find a shot," said Striegler.

The other transfer is junior Juliana Gomes from Eastern Oklahoma State College. An extremely hard worker and very fundamental on defense, she will prove to be an asset as a defensive stopper in the paint.

Rookies Jackie Akers and Courtney Chessher also give the Golden Knights some options. Akers is a well-rounded, coachable player. Not only does she give UCF versatility thanks to her jump shot and her ability under the basket, but she also provides the team with formidable defensive skills as well.

At 6-4, Chessher provides UCF with a physical presence in the paint. She adds quality depth in the post with her ability to shoot and rebound.


In 2005-06, the Golden Knights return to tradition when they open the season by hosting the UCF Golden Knights Classic. They make their debut against in-state rival Florida A&M on Nov. 18 before finishing out the weekend with WNIT finalist West Virginia on Nov. 19.

"That game is very important because it provides us with a test against a tough BIG EAST team," said Striegler. "We will be able to guage where we are and what kind of work we need to do to become even better."

After the home tournament, UCF hits the road for six consecutive games beginning with a cross-country journey to California's Bay Area. There the squad competes against Butler, Princeton and host St. Mary's in the Hilton Concord Thanksgiving Classic Nov. 25-26, then visits Santa Clara on Nov. 28 before returning home.

"The teams we have scheduled in California are competitive and that will enable us to see how we face the adversity of playing on the road," said Striegler. "We also want to give our players a chance to see another part of the country. A trip like this isn't just about playing basketball but also about life experience."

Striegler also hopes that the team will gain some experience on the road before UCF travels to Florida State and Georgia Southern in early December.

The end of the month brings the Golden Knights back to the UCF Arena for a string of five home contests, including the UCF Holiday Classic. UCF opens the tournament against Central Michigan on Dec. 16, then faces 2005 NCAA Tournament participant UT-Arlington.

Miami and Quinnipiac also come to Orlando before UCF makes its Conference USA debut against Southern Miss on New Year's Eve. The Eagles are a familiar opponent for the Golden Knights as the two squads have met twice over the last three years.

"Seeing a familiar team in our first C-USA game will give our players some confidence because they know that we can compete with Southern Miss," said Striegler. "More importantly, though, is that we are starting at home rather than on the road."

Of course, UCF will see its fair share of road games. The following weekend the Golden Knights travel to Texas where they take on two of the conference's top teams in Houston and Rice.

"We will be tested early against those two teams. It gives us the opportunity to see where we fit in this conference," said Striegler.

The Golden Knights also earn national exposure when they return home. After squaring off against Tulane on Jan. 13, they play UTEP two days later in a game that is scheduled to be broadcast live on CSTV. It marks the first nationally televised home contest.

In addition to finishing out the season with its home-and-home series versus Marshall, East Carolina, Memphis and UAB, UCF also hosts SMU and travels to Tulsa and Southern Miss.

The Golden Knights are aware that the move to Conference USA presents a challenge, but it is one that they are excited to meet.

"We know right now that in this league we can't afford to have an off night and expect to come away with a win," said Striegler. "Every night we will play to the best of our ability and leave it all on the court."