Golden Knights Make C-USA Championship Debut Wednesday

March 6, 2006

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ORLANDO - The UCF men's basketball team has made two-consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, but will have a new challenge this season as it participates in the 2006 Conference USA Championship presented by Aeropostale. The Golden Knights (13-14) earned the fifth seed at the league tournament and will face No. 12 East Carolina (8-19) in the first round on Wednesday evening in Memphis, Tenn.

Tip-off at the FedEx Forum is slated for 9:30 p.m. Eastern. The Golden Knights won both regular season meetings with the Pirates this year.

UCF is in its first season in C-USA after moving from the Atlantic Sun. Head coach Kirk Speraw's team has played in three-straight conference championship title games. UCF has claimed two league title games in a row, topping Gardner-Webb (63-54) in the A-Sun final a year ago. In 2004, the squad defeated Troy, 60-55.

Dating back to the start of the 2001-02 campaign, UCF is 10-1 in conference championship action. The Golden Knights have won six-straight league tournament games.

The winner of the East Carolina-UCF contest will face No. 4 Houston in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern.

Wednesday's game will be aired live on the UCF ISP Sports Network and its flagship station, WQTM - 740 THE TEAM. Marc Daniels will have the call from courtside. Audio of the contest is also available on www.UCFathletics.com as part of the "Golden Knights All-Access" package. Video of the game is also available on-line.

UCF LAST TIME OUT Mike O'Donnell scored a career-high 23 points as UCF topped visiting UTEP, 66-55, on Saturday. O'Donnell tied a school record in the win, hitting all six of his three-point field goal attempts. For the contest, UCF shot 52.9 percent from deep. The Golden Knights led by one point at halftime, but opened the second stanza with a 21-7 run. Justin Rose added 14 points for the Golden Knights, who shot a season-high 88.2 percent at the free-throw line.

UCF-EAST CAROLINA SERIES HISTORY UCF has a 4-0 edge in the all-time series with East Carolina and swept the season series with the Pirates this year. Behind 18 points from Justin Rose, the Golden Knights claimed a 64-59 victory in Greenville, N.C. on Jan. 25. UCF shot 60.9 percent from the field in the first half and 46.5 percent for the game. The Pirates trailed by only five late in the contest, but the Golden Knights hit six free throws in the final 1:30 to secure the victory. In Orlando on Feb. 22, five Golden Knights recorded double-figures in scoring as UCF cruised to a 69-49 win over the Pirates. Josh Peppers paced UCF with 17 points.

In the two contests against the Pirates in 2005-06, Rose averaged 15 points, five boards and four steals. Anthony Williams averaged 13 points and 4.5 rebounds. UCF shot a combined 48 percent from the floor, compared to 35.4 percent for East Carolina. Kirk Speraw is 4-0 against East Carolina.

A STRONG FINISH The Golden Knights closed the regular season in strong fashion, winning three of their last four games. During that span, UCF averaged 68.2 points per game, while opponents scored 60.2 points a contest. The team has connected on 36 three-pointers in its last four games, with Mike O'Donnell hitting 14 and Josh Peppers making 10 treys.

MARCH WITHOUT THE MADNESS The month of March usually lacks the expected "madness" for the Golden Knights. Under Kirk Speraw, UCF is 20-10 during the month. In the last four seasons, the Golden Knights are 9-4 in March.

RIGHT ON TARGET Conference USA's head coaches were accurate when they selected the 2005-06 C-USA Preseason Poll. UCF was picked to finish in a tie for fifth in the league, along with Rice. The Owls finished in seventh, but the Golden Knights proved the coaches right, concluding the regular season in fifth with a 7-7 record.

THE SPOILERS This season, the top four squads in Conference USA (Memphis, UAB, UTEP, Houston) combined to lose just three games to the other eight league teams. UCF recorded two of the three wins against the top-four squads. The Golden Knights defeated host Houston, 66-56, on Jan. 14. In Orlando on March 4, UCF recorded a 66-55 victory over UTEP. Rice, who topped Houston (71-62 on Jan. 11) is the only other conference team to defeat a top-four squad this year.

A HISTORY LESSON UCF's seven Conference USA victories this season have come against teams with impressive legacies. In 2005-06, the Golden Knights topped three squads that participated in the postseason a year ago (UTEP - NCAA; Houston, Rice - NIT). UTEP has appeared in 16 NCAA Tournaments, including two in a row. The Miners won the national championship in 1966.

Houston has participated in 18 NCAA Tournaments and has made four trips to the Final Four. Rice has played in four NCAA Tournaments and has appeared in two-consecutive NITs. UCF's victories over Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina were also impressive. Tulsa boasts 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, three trips to the Sweet 16 and a pair of NIT titles. Tulane has appeared in three NCAA Tournaments and East Carolina has participated in a pair of NCAA Tournaments.

A MAJOR PLAYER When senior guard Troy Lindbeck steps onto the floor against East Carolina in the first round of the Conference USA Championship, he will tie Jason Thornton for the most games played in UCF history. Thornton appeared in 121 contests from 1998-02 and is UCF's all-time leader in the category. Lindbeck has played in 120 games and is currently tied for second with former teammate Josh Bodden (2000-04). Lindbeck has played on some of the best squads in school history. He has been a member of two NCAA Tournament teams and has been a part of three 20-win seasons.

UNGRATEFUL GUESTS The top four teams in Conference USA - Memphis, UTEP, UAB and Houston - combined to lose just one league contest on their home floors this season, going a combined 28-1 (.966) in their home venues. The Golden Knights served as the spoiler, recording a 66-56 victory at Houston on Jan. 14. The contest marked the first C-USA win for UCF in school history.

LOOKING FOR MORE FIRST-YEAR MAGIC UCF is hoping that its first campaign in Conference USA is similar to its first year in the Atlantic Sun Conference. UCF made its A-Sun debut in 1993-94. In its first year in the league, the Golden Knights won the conference championship crown, earning the A-Sun's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The trip to the "Big Dance" marked the school's first postseason appearance at the Division I level. The 1993-94 campaign was head coach Kirk Speraw's first with the Golden Knights.

VOLUNTEER STATE SUCCESS Since the start of the 2003-04 season, UCF is 9-2 in games played in Tennessee. All nine of the victories have come in Nashville (versus Belmont and Lipscomb and at the Atlantic Sun Championship). The Golden Knights played at Memphis this season on Jan. 28.

GETTING DEFENSIVE UCF is limiting opponents to only 63.6 points per contest this season, the second-best mark in Conference USA. This year, the Golden Knights have held 14 foes to below 60 points, including six in league play. In 2005-06, UCF has limited three teams to below 50 points. Two conference teams (Tulsa, East Carolina) have failed to score more than 50 points against the Golden Knights.

PERFECT FROM DEEP Mike O'Donnell had one of the best shooting performances in UCF history in the home win over UTEP on Saturday, going 6-of-6 from behind-the-arc. He joins Jason Thornton as the only Golden Knights to go 6-of-6 from three-point range in a game. Thornton was perfect from deep on Nov. 28, 1999 against South Carolina State. Thornton is UCF's all-time leader in triples, making 220 from 1998-02. With his effort against UTEP, O'Donnell became just 18th player in school history to make at least six treys in a game.

WINNING WITH THREES Ten of UCF's 13 victories in 2005-06 have come when the Golden Knights connect on seven or more three-pointers. The team is averaging just over seven treys a game this year.

GOING DEEP UCF is shooting 36.3 percent from three-point range, the top mark in Conference USA. Four Golden Knights are in the top-12 in the league in three-point field goal percentage. Justin Rose ranks third at 41.9 percent and Troy Lindbeck is fifth (39.5). Shooting 37.3 percent from deep, Mike O'Donnell is 10th in the league and Josh Peppers ranks 12th (36.3).

BIGGIE SMALLS Despite standing just 6-foot-3, Justin Rose is leading UCF in rebounding, averaging 5.7 a game. That mark is good for 13th in Conference USA. He is the only guard ranked in the league's top-15 in rebounding. The last time that a guard led UCF in rebounding was in 1996-97 when Mark Jones averaged 7.2 boards per contest. Jones was 6-foot-6.

In addition to excelling on the glass, Rose is second on the squad with an 11.1 points per game and a 3.4 assists per game average. In his second campaign at UCF, he is starting for the first time. On the defensive end, his 1.7 steals per contest rank ninth in the conference.

THE GO-TO-GUY Josh Peppers is leading UCF in scoring this season, averaging 13.2 points per contest, good for 10th in the conference. In 2005-06, he has drained 53 three-pointers and is also averaging a career-best 4.1 boards. He has paced the Golden Knights in scoring 13 times in 2005-06. Peppers showed great improvement as a sophomore in 2004-05, averaging 13.1 points per game. As a freshman, he averaged 3.8 points in 11.5 minutes a contest.

HOMECOMING FOR PEPPERS The Conference USA Championship will serve as a homecoming for Memphis native Josh Peppers. Peppers attended Whitehaven High School where he was a two-time all-metro selection. The junior forward's first cousin is former Memphis star Cedric Henderson. Henderson played for the Tigers from 1993-97 and was a second-round pick of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. Peppers played in Memphis for the first time since high school when the Golden Knights faced the Tigers on Jan. 28.

WELCOME FRESHMAN Jermaine Taylor is averaging 5.1 points per game in Conference USA play. He has scored in double-figures in three league games, including a 16-point outburst against Houston at home on Feb. 15. One of two local players on the roster, Taylor is averaging 7.5 points in UCF's last six games. Two of his three double-digit scoring performances have come during that span. Taylor is the cousin of former UCF star Darryl Davis, who played at the school from 1991-95. Davis is third all-time in scoring at UCF, totaling 1,540 points.

THE STARTING LINEUP UCF has used seven different starting lineups this season. Eight Golden Knights have recorded starts in 2005-06, but only one player, Mike O'Donnell, has started every game. Prior to coming off of the bench against Tulane on Feb. 11, Josh Peppers had started 41-consecutive contests.

GOING THE DISTANCE Mike O'Donnell registered 37 minutes versus UTEP on Saturday. In Conference USA play, he is averaging 32.7 minutes. O'Donnell has logged at least 35 minutes in 11 contests this season. At Houston on Jan. 14, he played all 40 minutes.

THE BENCH MOB UCF's reserves are averaging 17.7 points per contest this year. On five occasions, the bench has scored more than 30 points. Twice in 2005-06, the Golden Knight bench has outscored the starters. On Feb. 15 at home against Houston, the reserves scored 47 points, compared to 24 for the starting five. The bench scored 32 of UCF's 61 points in the home victory over Bethune-Cookman on Nov. 29.

AT THE HALF This season, UCF is 12-5 when leading at halftime. The team has won just one game (versus Bethune-Cookman) when trailing at intermission. In league play, the Golden Knights are 7-3 when leading at the half.

THIS DATE IN UCF HISTORY On March 8, 2003, three Golden Knights finished with double-digits in scoring, but it was not enough as Troy claimed the Atlantic Sun title with an 80-69 victory over UCF in Atlanta. Ed Dotson paced UCF with 18 points and Ray Abellard canned four three-pointers on his way to 16 points. Both Abellard and Dotson earned all-tournament team honors.

UP NEXT The East Carolina-UCF winner will face No. 4 Houston in the Conference USA Championship presented by Aeropostale quarterfinals on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern. The contest will be televised live nationally on CSTV... UCF and Houston split the season series in 2005-06, with each team winning on the road. The Golden Knights claimed their first C-USA victory on Jan. 14 in Houston with a 66-56 win. Anthony Williams scored 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the floor and also posted nine rebounds and five blocks for UCF. UCF limited the Cougars to just 31 percent shooting overall. Houston entered the game averaging 77.5 points per contest. Justin Rose grabbed 14 rebounds and totaled 11 points in the winning effort... On Feb. 15, Houston returned the favor with a 78-71 victory in Orlando. UCF had four players, record double-digits in scoring, led by Josh Peppers with 17, but it was not enough as Houston canned 12 three-pointers. Lanny Smith hit four triples and paced the Cougars with 25 points and nine assists... In two contests this year against the Cougars, Williams is averaging 20 points, 10 boards and three blocks. Peppers averaged 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds versus Houston.