Knights Insider UCF-Drake Recap


Nov. 22, 2009

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By John Denton

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Playing just 24 hours after its first loss of the season and involved in a third game in as many day, the UCF's men's basketball team faced its first true test of the season on Sunday.

And it was a test that the scrappy, relentless Knights passed with flying colors.

UCF closed Sunday's game with a 15-4 run and didn't give up a point over the final 6:08 in a runaway 59-50 defeat of Drake in the Glenn Wilkes Classic at Daytona Beach's Ocean Center.

The victory not only allowed UCF (4-1) to win three of its four games in the tourney, but it also showed the Knights something about their grit and ability to battle through adversity. With a freshman and sophomore-heavy roster there was some concern as to how the Knights would respond to Saturday's unsightly 63-46 loss to Niagara.

``I was curious about how we'd play, but I was pretty confident too,'' said UCF guard Isaac Sosa, who hit five 3-pointers and scored 15 points. ``We're an aggressive team. Even though we're young we don't want people to think of us as a young team. We want to act like veterans. We know we can do things that people don't expect us to do.''

That has become very apparent already. UCF was picked to finish seventh in Conference USA this season, but the Knights already own nonconference wins against UMass, Auburn and Drake. And they proved on Sunday they are pretty good at bouncing back too, even with playing a third game in three days.

``I'm the type who lets losses stick with them and I'm really hard on myself, but I knew in order for us to win this game we had to put (Saturday's performance) behind us,'' point guard A.J. Rompza said. ``I had to get everybody back in a good mood and ready to play.''

Rompza had a pregame skit where he had teammates sipped Gatorade at the same time, and then he sparked the Knights with his toughness on the court, too. He was briefly benched following a bad turnover, but he ignited a huge run after UCF fell behind 46-44 with 10:17 to play.

His steal and layup put UCF up 49-46 and after Drake (1-4) got to within 51-50, he had a high banker off the glass to steady UCF. But easily the best play for the 5-9 guard was a nifty up-and-under layup over Drake power forward Seth Van Deest to give UCF a 55-50 lead. Six of Rompza's eight points came during UCF's game-closing kick.

Rompza exited the tournament with cuts on his legs and shoulders and said he played on Sunday through ``a small concussion.'' UCF coach Kirk Speraw doubted that, but he didn't doubt Rompza's effect on the rest of his teammates.

``I didn't recall him graduating from medical school,'' Speraw joked. ``He's got a hard head and there's a lot of rocks in there. But our guys really respond to how he plays.''

Showing much more balance than last season when the team leaned so heavily on Conference USA Player of the Year Jermaine Taylor, UCF continued to get plenty of production from up and down its roster.

Dave Diakite, arguably UCF's most improved player this season, just missed another double-double with 10 points, eight rebounds and a thunderous double-pump dunk with 90 seconds to play. P.J. Gaynor chipped in 11 points, scoring off all three of his offensive rebounds. And star freshman Keith Clanton did it on both ends of the floor, scoring six points, grabbing four rebounds and swatting four shots

. All in all, Speraw said he couldn't be much happier with how the Knights responded to the challenge of playing Howard, Auburn, Niagara and Drake over the span of six days.

``It was a very good weekend for us,'' Speraw said. ``I didn't really know what to expect from our guys playing three good teams in three days with three different schemes. It really challenged us offensively with all of the adjustments that we had to make, but I thought we handled it pretty well.''

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