Knights Insider UCF-UMass Recap


Nov. 13, 2009

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By John Denton

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With a team full of mostly sophomores and freshmen, UCF is easily one of the nation's youngest basketball teams. And after Friday's inspiring season-opening defeat of UMass, the Knights might also be one of the nation's most promising young teams.

UCF looked like a team playing beyond its years of experience on Friday night, leading throughout and throttling UMass in the second half of an 84-67 victory before the second-largest crowd ever at UCF Arena.

When the win was complete and the arena throbbed with raw emotion, UCF's players circled the lower bowl and celebrated with the raucous crowd. And after the convincing victory, UCF sophomore point guard A.J. Rompza hoped that the performance was proof that the Knights can be successful in spite of their youthful roster.

``We stay positive,'' said Rompza, who played through leg cramps and scored 13 points to go with his five assists. ``There was times that we went down seven and I know we're a young team - that's all (everybody) talks about - we could have gave in and put our heads down. But we showed a lot of maturity and we stayed strong. We just played really well as a young team.''

That they did, getting contributions from all over the roster. Sophomore guard Isaac Sosa scored a career-best 26 points and made his first six 3-pointers. P.J. Gaynor, one of the Knights most improved players scored 11 points, while Dave Diakite added eight points, seven rebounds and a steal. And heralded freshmen Keith Clanton (nine points, eight rebounds) and Marcus Jordan (two assists, two rebounds and one steal) added bench support.

``We didn't really know how they'd respond to this game and playing a program like UMass,'' UCF coach Kirk Speraw said. ``I really proud of the guys because they battled and took care of the details and maintained their poise throughout.''

Sosa, a grizzled veteran by UCF standards as a sophomore, helped steady the Knights (1-0) with some clutch shooting in the early and late phases of the game. Each time UMass collapsed inside on Clanton or Jakub Kusmieruk (six points, three rebounds), Sosa was there when the ball swung for a 3-pointer.

``I was very focused coming into the game and I always feel very confident in my shot,'' said Sosa, who made nine of 11 shots and six of seven 3-pointers. ``Once I get it going I feel like I can keep it going the rest of the game.''

The crowd of 8,727 inside UCF Arena was the second-largest ever, trailing only the huge crowd from last year against the University of Memphis.

UCF unveiled banners at halftime honoring the father-son duo of Torchy Clark and Bo Clark. Torchy, who died last April at the age of 80, is considered the father of UCF basketball after starting the program in 1969. He won 274 games in 14 years as coach of the program.

Bo Clark, a Knight from 1975-80, still holds the school record with 2,886 career points. He averaged 27.8 points in his UCF career and was clearly touched by the moment.

``It's a very emotional moment for our family,'' Bo said to the crowd as he was surrounded by a group of former UCF players. ``Both as a coach and a mentor, I don't think there was anybody better than my dad.''

Speraw said that while he didn't know what to expect from his young Knights, he fully expected his team to stand up in the face of the pressure Friday night. UCF will not crumble this season because of youth or tentativeness, Speraw said.

``We're not using that (youth) as an excuse,'' he said. ``We understand what we have to do. Our youth isn't an excuse and we're not going to use that this season. We expect positive results from this team.''

Ricky Harris led UMass (0-1) with 15 points. The Minutemen made just 12 of 38 3-pointers.

UCF led 38-35 at the break after shooting a stellar 59.3 percent in the first half. The Knights routinely worked the ball around for good shots and broke down UMass's defense with Rompza's heady play. UCF's dynamic point guard scored nine first-half points and riddled the Minutemen with five assists.

Riding the emotion of the boisterous home crowd, UCF roared out of the gates and led 13-4 just minutes into the game. Sosa shot the ball with confidence, burning UMass's defense for eight quick points in the opening minutes.

Following a slow start, UMass got hot from the outside and burned UCF for seven 3-pointers in the first half. An almost unthinkable 25 of UMass's 35 shots in the first half came from beyond the 3-point stripe.

The young Knights showed maturity beyond their years early on, digging their way out of a seven-point hole to regain the lead by halftime. Sosa hit his third 3-pointer with a minute to play in the first half, giving UCF its first lead since the opening minutes. He had 11 points by the break and made all three of his 3-pointers.

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