UCF Looking to Continue Successful Season at C-USA Championship

March 6, 2007

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ORLANDO, Fla. (www.ucfathletics.com) - Looking to continue its successful 2006-07 season, the UCF men's basketball team heads to Memphis, Tenn. to compete at the Conference USA Championship. The second-seeded Golden Knights will face No. 7 Rice or No. 10 UTEP on Thursday in the quarterfinals.

Tip-off for UCF's (22-8, 11-5 C-USA) contest is set for 1 p.m. Eastern at the FedEx Forum. The game will be televised live nationally on CSTV. Greg Amsinger will have the call and Sean Farnham will provide color commentary.

As a result of finishing second in the C-USA regular-season standings, UCF earned a first-round bye at the event, joining No. 1 Memphis, No. 3 Houston and No. 4 Tulane.

The semifinals are scheduled for Friday afternoon and the title game is slated for Saturday morning. The tournament champion receives C-USA's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

UCF learned on Monday that Memphis native Josh Peppers earned a spot on the All-C-USA Second Team. The senior forward averaged 15.3 points in league play this year. The conference will announce its player and coach of the year honorees on Wednesday.

The Golden Knights will head to Memphis on Tuesday afternoon.

All of UCF's games at C-USA Championship will be broadcast live on the UCF ISP Sports UCF ISP Sports Network and its flagship station, 740 THE TEAM AM in Orlando. Marc Daniels will provide the call from courtside. Live audio and statistics will be available at www.ucfathletics.com.

UCF-Rice Series History: The Golden Knights have won all three matchups with Rice since both programs joined Conference USA and have a 3-1 edge in the all-time series. This season, UCF topped the Owls 72-67 on Jan. 20 in Orlando, then claimed a 74-63 victory on the road on Feb. 17. Josh Peppers averaged 16 points this year versus Rice. UCF's Dave Noel guarded Morris Almond in both contests against the Owls and helped contain one of the nation's top scorers. In the two games, Noel limited Almond to just 6-of-28 shooting overall. Almond averaged 16.5 points versus the Golden Knights.

UCF-UTEP Series History: UCF defeated the host Miners, 67-64, on Jan. 27 in the squad's only meeting this season. Jermaine Taylor paced the Golden Knights with 15 points and Josh Peppers and Mike O'Donnell both totaled 13 points. Kevin Henderson led the hosts with 19 points and 16 boards. O'Donnell's triple with 2:19 to play proved to be the difference. UTEP had a chance to send the game into overtime, but Henderson's trey rimmed out with four seconds on the clock. Since both teams joined Conference USA prior to last year, the Golden Knights are 2-0 against UTEP. UCF has a 2-1 edge in the all-time series.

UCF Last Time Out: Playing at home for the final time, Josh Peppers scored 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting to lift UCF to a 77-64 victory over East Carolina in Orlando on Saturday. Fellow senior Lavell Payne totaled 17 points in the win. Peppers scored 21 points in the opening half and the Golden Knights led 41-29 at intermission.

Show and Prove: UCF proved Conference USA's head coaches wrong, as the group selected the Golden Knights seventh in the 2006-07 league preseason poll. The Golden Knights secured second place in the conference standings with their 11-5 record.

20/20/20/20 Vision: With its victory over Southern Miss on Feb. 21, UCF posted its 20th win of the season. The Golden Knights have recorded 20-victory campaigns in four of the last five years. UCF has averaged 21 victories in the last five years.

Victory: With its 22 victories, UCF has easily eclipsed its win total from a year ago. In 2005-06, the Golden Knights went 14-15 overall. At 11-5, UCF also surpassed its league-win total from last season, when the squad went 7-7 in its first year in the league.

Leaders of the New School: Since joining Conference USA with five other programs prior to the 2005-06 campaign, UCF has recorded 18 league victories, the most among the new members. UTEP (17), Tulsa (15), Rice (14), Marshall (12) and SMU (7) follow UCF. With the move, the Golden Knights have faced the biggest increase in competition among the new schools, having previously competed in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Nice Recovery: Since falling to then 11th-ranked Memphis on Jan. 31, UCF is 7-2. Five of the victories came at home.

Follow the Leaders: Dating back to the start of the 2002-03 campaign, UCF has won 106 games. That mark ranks 30th nationally and second among all programs in Florida during that span.

Welcome Back: UCF will be participating in the Conference USA Championship for the second time. At the 2006 event, the fifth-seeded Golden Knights defeated No. 12 East Carolina (65-52) before dropping a 71-52 quarterfinal contest to No. 4 Houston.

Methods of Madness: Under Kirk Speraw, UCF is 22-8 in conference tournament games. The Golden Knights went 21-7 under Speraw from 1994-05 in the Atlantic Sun Championship. In its first Conference USA Championship a year ago, the squad went 1-1. The Golden Knights have won nine of their last 11 conference tournament contests. Speraw guided UCF to four A-Sun Championship titles and seven finals appearances.

Flavor of the Month: The month of March lacks the expected "madness" for the Golden Knights. Under Kirk Speraw, UCF is 22-11 during the month. In the last five seasons, the Golden Knights are 11-5 in March.

Walking in Memphis: The tournament will serve as a homecoming for two Golden Knights from Memphis - Josh Peppers and Andre Thornton. Peppers starred at Whitehaven High School, where he was a two-time all-metro selection. He is the first cousin of former NBA player and Memphis standout Cedric Henderson. Henderson was an All-Conference USA Second Team pick in 1996-97. Thornton was the valedictorian at Mitchell High School in 2006. He helped lead Mitchell to the Tennessee Class AA title game as a senior last year.

Step it Up: Josh Peppers shined at the 2006 Conference USA Championship. Playing in front of his family and friends, he averaged 20 points in a pair of games. Peppers made five treys and finished with 25 points in UCF's first round win over East Carolina. In the quarterfinals, he totaled 15 points against Houston.

Tennessee State of Mind: Since the start of the 2002-03 season, UCF is 10-3 in games played in Tennessee. Nine of the victories have come in Nashville (versus Belmont, Lipscomb and at the Atlantic Sun Championship).

Closing Time: UCF's win over East Carolina on March 3 served as the program final game at the UCF Arena. The Golden Knights will play on campus at the new Convocation Center next year. The 10,000-seat venue will give UCF one of the top facilities in the nation.

Red Hot Chilli Peppers: Josh Peppers was UCF's leader offensively in Conference USA play this year. He ranked seventh in league action, averaging 15.3 points. The senior forward recorded 13 double-digit scoring performances in conference games. In non-league play, he averaged 12.9 points this year. Peppers averaged 16.3 points in the Golden Knights' final 10 contests of the regular season.

Veteran's Day: When Josh Peppers takes the floor in UCF's quarterfinal game on Thursday, it will mark his 122nd game as a Golden Knight. Peppers has appeared in 121 games while at UCF, good for second in program history. His former teammate, Troy Lindbeck (2002-06), is the school's all-time leader in the category. Peppers has played in a pair of NCAA Tournament games at UCF and has helped the team to 85 victories during his career.

The Score: Josh Peppers is seventh all-time at UCF with 1,358 career points. D'Quarius Stewart, who played at the school from 1996-00, is sixth on the scoring register with 1,387 points. Peppers scored 12 points in the win over Florida Atlantic on Dec. 9 to become just the 13th 1,000-point scorer in program history.

Target Practice: UCF is tops in Conference USA, shooting 47.3 percent from the floor. The team ranks 46th nationally. Jermaine Taylor is 11th in the league at 48.3 percent and Lavell Payne ranks 12th (48.2).

All Points Bulletin: Last season, UCF scored more than 70 points in a contest only five times. In 2006-07, the Golden Knights have scored at least 70 points 19 times. After averaging just 63.3 points per game last season, the Golden Knights are scoring 73.6 points per contest this year. The squad eclipsed the 80-point mark only once a year ago, but has already scored at least 80 points in a game on eight occasions this season. UCF owns a +8.0 scoring margin.

Double Up: In 2005-06, two Golden Knights finished the campaign averaging double-figures in scoring - Josh Peppers (13.7) and Justin Rose (10.5). Four UCF players are currently scoring over 10 points a contest. Josh Peppers (14.1), Jermaine Taylor (13.0), Lavell Payne (11.0) and Mike O'Donnell (10.4) are all averaging double-digits in points this year.

Three 6 Mafia: The Golden Knights are shooting 39.7 percent from 3-point range this year. The mark is the best in Conference USA and ranks 21st nationally. UCF has two of the most accurate shooters from deep in the conference. Mike O'Donnell is second in the league at 44.1 percent, followed by Jermaine Taylor (41.9) at third.

Triple Trouble: The Golden Knights have already connected on 233 3-pointers this season. That mark is tied for second on UCF's single-season register.

House of Payne: Lavell Payne has been a force inside for the Golden Knights since Conference USA play began in early January. In league games, he averaged 13.3 points and 5.6 boards while shooting 51.8 percent overall, which ranked fourth in C-USA. In non-league play, the senior from Fort Lauderdale averaged 8.4 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting at a 42.4 percent clip. The senior closed the regular season in strong fashion. He averaged 16.1 points in the team's last seven contests.

Free for All: A year after shooting just 64.3 percent at the charity stripe, the Golden Knights pace Conference USA in free-throw percentage (72.5). This season, three UCF players are in C-USA's top-15 in the category. Dave Noel (85.2) is third, Josh Peppers ranks 10th at 76.3 and Lavell Payne is 13th (73.6). The Golden Knights have hit 490 free throws this year, which ranks fifth on the school's single-season register.

Free Falling: Dave Noel ranks 41st nationally, shooting 85.2 percent at the free-throw line. Against league opponents, he shot a conference-best 89.4 percent at the line. Last year as a sophomore, Noel made 74.2 percent of his free-throw attempts.

Joy and Payne: Lavell Payne ranks 13th in Conference USA, connecting on 73.6 percent of his attempts at the free-throw line. Payne's effort is impressive, considering he shot just 42.9 percent at the charity stripe in 2005-06. Last year, he made just 18-of-42 free-throw attempts. This season, he is 106-of-144 at the line.

The Art of Self Defense: In addition to showing great improvement on offense, Dave Noel is developing into a defensive stopper for the Golden Knights. Noel has proved his strength on the defensive end in UCF's two victories over Rice this season. He spent most of both contests guarding Morris Almond, one of the top scorers in the nation. In the two contests, Noel limited Almond to just 6-of-28 shooting and a 2-of-11 showing from 3-point range. Almond is currently averaging 26.5 points, but averaged just 16.5 points versus UCF.

A Change of Pace: As the backup point guard last year, Dave Noel averaged just 2.8 points in 11.8 minutes an outing. Now starting at shooting guard, the junior is averaging 9.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and three assists. He is shooting 50 percent from the floor and 85.2 percent at the free-throw stripe.

The Sixth Sense: A year ago, Jermaine Taylor scored 130 points as a freshman, seeing time in all 29 of UCF's games. As one of the top sixth men in the nation this year, the sophomore has totaled 390 points and is second on the team at 13 points per game. He has paced UCF in scoring 12 times. A year ago, the guard scored in double-figures just four times. In 2006-07, he has totaled double-digits in points in 19 games. He has made 62 triples this season after canning 17 a year ago. Last season, Taylor shot 39.5 percent overall and 30.4 percent from deep. He is currently hitting 48.3 percent of his field-goal attempts and is shooting 41.9 percent from behind-the-arc.

Group Home: The Golden Knights went 15-1 at home this year. The 15 wins in Orlando were the most in school history. The team dominated at the UCF Arena, posting a +14.3 scoring margin and shooting 50.7 percent overall. Since 2003-04, UCF is 49-10 at home.

Crowded House: Thanks to an exciting team on the floor and new marketing strategies, a school record 43,296 fans attended UCF home games this year. The Golden Knights averaged 2,706 spectators in 2006-07 after averaging 1,541 last season. Three of the top-five crowds in school history were recorded this year and a UCF-record 4,805 fans watched the Golden Knights host No. 11 Memphis on Jan. 31.

Triple Threat: In his career at UCF, senior forward Josh Peppers has connected on 178 3-pointers, which is good for second all-time. His 485 3-point field goal attempts rank second at the school.

Put it on the Line: Josh Peppers is seventh in program history with 258 free throws. Peppers is eighth in school history with 342 free-throw attempts.

Lean Back: UCF has proved its determination this season by not losing back-to-back games. The squad is 8-0 following a loss in 2006-07.

You Don't Know the Half: This year, UCF is 17-3 when leading at halftime. The Golden Knights are averaging 34.8 points before intermission, while holding their foes to 28.8.

Up Close and Personal: After not having a game go into extra sessions in 2005-06, UCF has played in five overtime contests this year. Four of those games occurred during league play as 11 of the Golden Knights' 16 Conference USA contests were decided by 10 points of less.

Young Buck: In limited minutes this season, freshman Tony Davis has proved that he can rebound. The forward is third on the squad, averaging 3.9 rebounds in 13.7 minutes per game. He was the 2005-06 Florida Class 6A Player of the Year at Riverview High School in Sarasota.

Treacherous Three: Mike O'Donnell has connected on 119 triples while with the Golden Knights. He ranks 10th all-time at UCF in the category. O'Donnell's 337 3-point field goal attempts are good for ninth in program history. The junior, who played at NC State as a freshman in 2003-04, has drained 137 3-pointers at the collegiate level.

From Start to Finish: In 2005-06, Kirk Speraw used nine different starting lineups. Eight different Golden Knights started during the season. This year, Speraw has used just two lineups, with one coming on senior night. Mike O'Donnell, Dave Noel, Josh Peppers and Lavell Payne have started evey contest this season. Kenrick Zondervan has made 29 starts at center, coming off of the bench only on senior night on March 3, when Adam Gill entered the lineup.

Pass it On: Mike O'Donnell and Dave Noel have helped UCF take good care of the ball this season. O'Donnell is second in Conference USA with a 2.40 assist/turnover ratio. Noel is eighth (1.78). The junior guards have combined for 204 assists and just 98 turnovers this year.

Blue Streak: The Golden Knights had a pair of three-game winning streaks in Conference USA play during the year. In 2005-06, UCF won two-straight league contests on three occasions, but could not muster a three-game streak.

Survival of the Fittest: The Golden Knights escaped January with a 5-4 record, including a 4-3 showing in Conference USA play. The mark was impressive considering the squad played six of its nine games during the month away from home. UCF started January with four-straight road contests. The team flew 7,857 total miles during the month, visiting Boulder, Colo., Brookings, S.D., Birmingham, Ala., Huntington, W.Va., Houston and El Paso, Texas.

Living Off Experience: Forwards Lavell Payne and Josh Peppers are the only seniors on the UCF roster this year. In 2005-06, four seniors saw action for the Golden Knights.

One Big Trip: UCF finished third at the eight-team San Juan Shootout from Dec. 19-21. The squad went 2-1 at the tournament and opened the event with a 67-61 victory over Utah. UCF's only loss was to tournament champion Appalachian State in the semifinals. The team finished ahead of programs from some of the top conferences in the nation, including Northwestern (Big Ten), Utah (Mountain West) and Virginia (Atlantic Coast).

Back to the Old School: Stanley Billings leads UCF with 20 blocked shots this season. An Orlando native, Billings graduated from Oak Ridge High School, where he did not play basketball, in 1996. Following high school, he spent eight years in the Marines. He started playing competitive basketball while in the military. According to research by the UCF Athletics Communications Office, Billings is the oldest Division I player in the nation.

Opening Act: UCF began the campaign 6-0 for the first time since moving to the Division I level prior to the 1984-85 season. As a result of their solid start, the Golden Knights received three votes in the Dec. 11 Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Next Episode: On Dec. 4, Kirk Speraw announced that Jean-Michel Yotio signed a National Letter of Intent with the Golden Knights and will join the program next fall. A 6-foot-9, 235-pound power forward from Montverde Academy in nearby Lake County, Yotio is a native of the Ivory Coast. He missed last season due to an illness, but shined on the 2006 summer camp circuit.