John Denton's Knights Insider - UCF Drops Tough Contest at USF


Dec. 16, 2009

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By John Denton

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TAMPA - Never further back than 12 points of the lead in the second half, UCF made several hard charges at arch-rival USF on Wednesday night only to be kept at bay each time.

As if losing 69-65 to USF wasn't tough enough to swallow, UCF also had to deal with being so agonizingly close and unable to get over the hump against the rivals to the West. In some ways, losing in this manner was almost torturous to a Knights' team that poured plenty into the showdown against the rival Bulls.

``It was very frustrating because we scrambled so hard to make runs, but we'd get a score and couldn't get a stop to pair with that score,'' UCF coach Kirk Speraw said. ``I just wish we would have brought that effort early on because we were spectators (in the first half) on defense. We've got to grow beyond that.''

In the midst of one of its toughest stretches of the season, UCF dropped to 7-3 with a game at No. 14 UConn looming on Sunday. Then, after two home games in the holiday classic, the Knights travel to Ole Miss before starting Conference USA play.

UCF sophomore guard Isaac Sosa, who had a team-high 14 points and four 3-pointers, said the Knights must learn a difficult lesson from Wednesday's loss. USF (8-2) outrebounded the Knights 38-27 and got to the free throw line 33 times compared to UCF's 14 attempts because they were the aggressors much of the night.

``It's frustrating because we didn't take care of the little details that make all the difference,'' Sosa said. ``They outrebounded us and out-toughed us on the glass. It was terrible. We had one offensive rebound with 5 minutes to play and that's just embarrassing.''

But there was nothing embarrassing about the way UCF continued to fight against a re-tooled USF team that has already beaten Virginia, Davidson and SMU this season. Dominique Jones, a junior guard from Lake Wales, burned UCF for 61 points in the two previous seasons and he scored another 27 points on Wednesday night. And forwards Jarrid Famous (11 points and 10 rebounds) and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (nine rebounds and two blocks) hurt the Knights inside.

``That's a good UCF team that we just played,'' USF coach Stan Heath said. ``They played really hard and we played really hard and that's a good win for us. The two areas where we had been inconsistent - free throws and rebounding - we took care of and I think that was the difference in the game.''

Freshman guard Marcus Jordan played his best game in a UCF uniform with 11 points, three assists and two steals in 24 minutes. Jordan helped the Knights stay close throughout the second half with his hard drives to the rim and his gritty defense on Jones.

``Marcus is getting better with each game,'' Speraw said. ``We're really starting to see the things now that he can bring to games for us.''

Fellow freshman Keith Clanton had nine points, six rebounds and four steals for the Knights. A.J. Tyler added eight points, while A.J. Rompza had seven points, six assists and two steals. Dave Diakite scored six and grabbed seven rebounds for a UCF team that shot 37 percent in the first half and 56 percent in the second half.

Tyler was involved in two plays that could have gotten UCF within striking distance of the lead in the second half. His dunk attempt from a nifty Jordan feed was blocked and Jones responded with a 3-pointer that put USF back up 12.

And with 1:22 to play, Speraw signaled for a timeout, but it wasn't granted until the Knights had already swung the ball around the perimeter to a wide-open Tyler, who buried a 3-pointer that would have trimmed the deficit to four points. Instead, it was waved off.

Said Speraw: ``I knew when he shot it that it was going in because that always happens.''

Yep, it was that kind of frustrating night for the Knights.

``We didn't have people on the offensive glass,'' Sosa said. ``Our shot selection wasn't good in the first half. We executed better in the second half, but that's because we were in desperation mode. We have to play like that more.''

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