John Denton's Knights Insider: Diakite Helps Knights Past Liberty


Dec. 29, 2009

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By John Denton

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A five-minute stretch of Tuesday night's second half resembled a David Diakite personal highlight reel what with the three spectacular dunks that the redshirt freshman forward converted.

That stretch of dazzling play certainly ignited a UCF team looking for a spark on Tuesday night. Now, the Knights are hoping that it will also help Diakite return to being the dynamic playmaking athlete that he was early in the season.

Diakite's three dunks helped UCF break open a close game and roll in the second half of an 82-58 defeat of Liberty in first-day action of the UCF Holiday Classic.

First, came a twisting, double-clutching dunk from Diakite that sent a charge through a somewhat listless Knights team. Then, a minute later, Diakite converted an alley-oop dunk that had most of the 4,641 fans at UCF Arena out of their seats. And the 6-foot-6 Diakite finished off the spectacular stretch with a thunderous one-handed slam in transition to seal the victory for the Knights.

``Some of those dunks, they leave you speechless,'' said UCF point guard A.J. Rompza, who had 12 points, five assists and two steals in his first game back after severely spraining his ankle. ``Anytime that Dave can rejuvenate us it helps. He gets a dunk or two, the crowd gets into it and we're playing good defense and that really helps us.

``We just need to try and get him to do that more often,'' Rompza continued. ``We were pretty much dead the whole game. We came out slow, but as soon as he got that first dunk you could see everything rise and sky-rocket. That's what we need out of him. His athletic ability can really help us.''

UCF (8-4) advances to face Jacksonville on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in the championship game of the Holiday Classic. Jacksonville (2-7) was a surprise 83-73 winner against Buffalo (6-4) in Tuesday's early game. Guard Ben Smith had 23 points and five 3-pointers in the Dolphins' defeat of Buffalo. Jacksonville pushed Florida and South Carolina in close losses earlier this season, and UCF coach Kirk Speraw said the Knights will have to play well to defeat JU.

``Jacksonville has played one of the toughest schedules in the country,'' he said. ``They're favored to win their league, they have veteran players and they have one of the best point guards in the country in Ben Smith. They're long, athletic and more physical than we are, so we have our hands full.''

Forwards A.J. Tyler and Keith Clanton played well inside for the Knights Tuesday night. Tyler had 13 points, while Clanton, the heralded freshman from Orlando, snagged 14 boards, handed out five assists, blocked two shots and scored seven points.

``I think I'm coming on pretty strong, but there's still a lot of things that I can still do a lot better,'' Clanton said. ``I just want to keep working and trying to get better.''

UCF's women's team was honored at halftime when the Knights' 2009 Conference USA championship banner was unveiled. A banner recognizing UCF's berth in the NCAA Women's tournament was also hung in the rafters of UCF Arena.

Isaac Sosa had 13 points and three 3-pointers for the Knights, who hadn't played in nine days. And Rompza was able to play 25 minutes despite severely rolling his ankle in a loss at UConn two weeks ago.

``(The ankle) could be a lot better, but some stuff you just have to suck it up and start playing,'' Rompza said. ``I iced it a lot when I was home and kept it up. I wasn't so worried about my ankle as I was how good of shape I'd be in. Coach told me to take five days off and one day off is a lot for me. But I just stuck with it.''

The Knights hope that Diakite sticks with his stellar play from Tuesday. The redshirt freshman was a standout early in the season, scoring in double figures in four of the first six games, while also being a force on the boards. But his play had tailed off of late and he had failed to score more than six points in any of the past five games.

His three dunks got the Knights rolling on Tuesday, but Speraw wants him to get back to being a force again defensively and on the glass.

``I hope he gets to going without having to have a dunk,'' Speraw said. ``I'd like to see him get going by playing great defense, taking a charge and rotating for a blocked shot and not having to rely on (a dunk). Certainly, those (dunks) helped to energize the team, but we can't rely on that for energy. We've got to take more pride in getting after people with good, sound defense. Certainly, those plays from Dave are exciting, but we can't rely on that to create energy for us.''

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