John Denton's Knights Insider: Knights Can't Complete Comeback Versus JU


Dec. 30, 2009

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By John Denton

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The most troubling aspect of UCF's 61-51 loss to Jacksonville on Wednesday night in the UCF Holiday Classic wasn't that the Knights shot just 33.3 percent or that they turned the ball over 17 times or that they missed 10 free throws.

No, coach Kirk Speraw was most frustrated by what he perceived to be a lack of toughness from a UCF team that had showed so much of it in the early stages of this basketball season. Speraw was bothered most by UCF's lack of aggression on the boards and the team's willingness to attack the rim.

``When you're shooting 25 percent and you can't throw it in the ocean and you have 17 turnovers you just don't get anything positive for yourself and it bothers your psyche,'' Speraw said. ``But we've got to have people when things are going tough who can step up and make that play that calms everybody and gives everybody a sense of confidence. We're searching for that right now.''

UCF (8-5) dug all the way out of a 15-point hole and took a 44-42 lead with 6:37 to play on a spectacular drive-and-dish play from Marcus Jordan to P.J. Gaynor for a dunk. And UCF seemed poised to take control of the game when guard Isaac Sosa drilled a baseline jump shot with 2:34 to play that put the Knights up 50-49.

But Jacksonville (3-7) got consecutive 3-pointers Lehmon Colbert and tournament Most Valuable Player Ben Smith (20 points) to stun UCF. The Knights scored just one point the rest of the way, while the Dolphins salted the game away with six free throws.

Jacksonville beat Buffalo and UCF on back-to-back nights and entered Wednesday with the nation's third-toughest schedule according to the Sagarin ratings. The Dolphins played nine of their first 10 games on the road and pushed South Carolina and Florida to late in the game before losing.

UCF saw three notable streaks come to an end with Wednesday's disappointing loss. The Knights had won seven games in a row in the Holiday Classic, capturing the past three tournament titles. Also, the Knights lost at home for the first time all season in seven tries and saw its streak of 16 straight victories against nonconference foes at home come to an end.

``The main thing about this game is they dictated to us and we only grabbed eight offensive rebounds so we weren't very aggressive,'' said Sosa, who had 12 points and two 3-pointers. ``We came out well in the second half, but didn't execute (late in the game) and we didn't do the little details. We didn't get inside enough and we missed free throws. ... They just out-toughed us.''

What was especially tough for UCF to swallow was what happened down the stretch. After going ahead 50-49, UCF missed three shots, misfired on three of four free throws and turned the ball over twice. It ruined an otherwise stellar comeback in which UCF battled back from a 15-point hole and a 34-27 deficit at the break.

``We showed some poise to get down and battle our way back,'' Speraw said. ``Nothing came easy and we kept scratching and clawing and got ourselves all the way back and I don't know if we felt like, `O.K., that's fine, that's it and we've made it.' That sometimes happens when you haven't been there and you have a letdown. I don't know if that happened, but it was a struggle.''

UCF heralded freshman Keith Clanton scored 10 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked two shots. Power forward A.J. Tyler struggled through a tough shooting night from the perimeter and scored just six points.

UCF made just six of 24 shots in the second half (25 percent) and 33.3 percent for the game. With so many missed shots, Speraw expected to see UCF have more rebounds on the offensive end of the floor. And he thinks his Knights didn't do enough of the little things to help overcome a difficult shooting night.

``We couldn't throw it in the ocean and when you can't do that you better go to the foul line, you better go inside and you better go to the offensive glass,'' Speraw said. ``We got to the free throw line a little bit but we missed way too many free throws. And we sure didn't have the effort to the glass that we needed to have. ... It was ridiculous and we addressed it.''

Up next for UCF is No. 16 Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., on Tuesday. Then, Conference USA play begins Jan. 9 with a home game against Rice.

``We just have to understand and learn that it doesn't matter who we play or what name is on the jersey there's a lot of good basketball players in this country and a lot of good basketball teams. You've got to step up and play,'' Speraw said. ``We have to be out there competing every night and can't be doing things casually. That's just something that we've driven home and we have to continue driving it home.''

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