John Denton's Knights Insider

Nov. 10, 2009

By John Denton

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Soon the UCF's women's basketball team will raise a conference championship banner to the top of UCF Arena, a moment that is sure to spark a flood of memories and emotions.

Head coach Joi Williams, the architect of the team that pulled off the shocking run to the Conference USA crown last spring, will soak in the sentiment of the ceremonial banner unveiling, but she also will likely be the first one looking to put an end to the feel-good moment.

Whereas Williams couldn't be prouder of what last season's team accomplished, she knows there are bigger and better things ahead for this year's team. She doesn't want this team trying to live off its past successes and instead wants the team to focus on the task at hand now.

``It'll be nice, the memories are great, but that's in the past now,'' Williams said of the upcoming banner ceremony. ``I'm sure when that night comes, we'll enjoy it. It will last 30 minutes and then we'll have to get back to business.

``It means a lot to us that we'll be the first team to hang a banner in this new arena,'' she said. ``We certainly want to lay a foundation, and that (C-USA title) is a big part of that. But we have to move on to this season now.''

UCF pulled off one of the school's most stunning turnarounds last season, going from 2-11 at the Christmas break to eventually winning the Conference USA crown. That metamorphosis started in January when UCF won 11 of its last 16 regular-season games. The Knights then won four games in four days to win the conference tournament and earn a berth into the NCAA tournament.

UCF lost in the NCAA's 85-80 to second-seeded North Carolina, but the thrilling late-season run evened the record at 17-17 and laid the foundation for a program built from the bottom up and seemingly destined for bigger success. UCF has the C-USA preseason Player of the Year in Emma Cannon and a roster loaded with talent and big-game experience.

And Williams wants this team to build on what has already been accomplished.

``When you win championships, that changes the culture,'' Williams said. ``But now we want to continue that. I tell our team all the time that we don't want to be a one-shot wonder. The foundation is laid and now we have to aim really high. We don't feel any pressure, but instead excitement about improving on what we've already accomplished.''

UCF's first test was a somewhat rocky one as the Knights struggled to beat St. Leo 67-60 on Sunday in an exhibition game. As C-USA champs, UCF is a targeted team for foes now, and Williams was worried about how her squad would handle success. She was visibly unhappy with UCF's intensity and focus and knows things have to improve before the Knights begin their rugged nonconference schedule.

Williams feels that part of the reason that UCF was able to breeze through conference play and ultimately the C-USA tournament last year was because of the high caliber of competition the Knights played early in the season. To that end, UCF has scheduled non-conference games against No. 24 Middle Tennessee State (Nov. 15), Washington (Dec. 6), Alabama (Dec. 14), No. 12 Florida State (Dec. 16) and No. 4 Notre Dame (Dec. 29).

``We feel like there's no pressure,'' said Cannon, a junior power forward. ``We're just focused on trying to be the best team in the conference and focused on doing the little things that will help us be really good.''

Cannon dreams of someday playing in the WNBA and she has the talent to do it as one of the nation's best rebounders. She had 21 double-doubles last season and opened the season with a 14-point, 17-rebound effort against St. Leo. She's worked hard on her offensive moves, trying to add a face-up jump shot to her skills around the hoop. Cannon averaged 15.5 points on 50.9 percent shooting a season ago while also pulling down 11.6 boards a game.

She will have more help this season from shooting guard Chelsie Wiley, the hero of the St. Leo win with 18 points and three 3-pointers in the second half. She scored in double figures in 21 of UCF's final 26 games last season, averaging 17.3 points a game during that stretch.

D'Nay Daniels is one of the teams toughest players in the paint, while Angelica Mealing (3.3 assists per game, 80.9 percent free throw percentage) and Aisha Patrick (2.2 steals per game) give the Knights two steady ball-handlers and top defenders. And senior Jessica Hall will provide seasoned depth after transferring from Memphis.

Williams is eager to see how that group meshes now with the weight of lofty expectations - and a championship banner - looming overhead. She is preaching to her team that while they can revel in last season's success, it means little going forward. Williams knows that comfort sometimes can be the cancer of ambition, and she wants her team pushing for more this time around.

``We came in here two years ago with 10 freshmen and going from where were to where we are now, it's been a tremendous amount of growth,'' she said. ``We still have a ways to go, but I'm so proud of the foundation that we've built.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears several times per week on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.