John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Battles Hard, But Tulsa Hangs On


Jan. 30, 2010

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By John Denton

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ORLANDO - UCF had battled Tulsa, one of the truly elite teams in Conference USA, to the final minute on Saturday and had possession of the ball with a chance to tie with just 31.5 seconds remaining. Momentum clearly on their side, the Knights seemed poised to do the unthinkable and find a way to pull off an upset.

But as fate would have it, UCF never got off that shot that could have possibly knotted the game. Instead, the Knights had to settle for a 55-50 loss to Tulsa that was disappointing, but also something inspiring to build on and possibly snap the team out of its current three-game drought.

UCF (10-11 overall and 2-5 in C-USA play) did plenty of good things on Saturday before a raucous UCF Arena crowd of 6,632, but couldn't ever overtake Tulsa (17-4 and 6-1) despite several runs at the lead.

``It's very frustrating because we had a lot of key stops defensively, but we didn't make the play offensively,'' UCF guard Taylor Young said. ``It was just one of those days.''

The Knights couldn't pull off the upset because they again struggled to shoot the ball. UCF shot a solid 46.2 percent in the first half, but hit just seven of 25 shots (28 percent) in the second half. And for just the second time all season, UCF failed to make a 3-point basket. The Knights missed all 12 of their tries from beyond the arc.

``For us to shoot 28 percent in the second half, not be able to make a three and they're fighting to hang on in the second half that tells you what a good job our guys did defensively,'' UCF coach Kirk Speraw said. ``I'm proud of our guys' effort, but if we could ever get to the point where we could make a jumper or a free throw ... We had great opportunities, but couldn't execute. But it's not from lack of effort and lack of getting after it.''

UCF's improvement of late was evident in the tightness of Saturday's game compared to the showdown in Tulsa back on Jan. 16. The Golden Hurricane won 90-70 two weeks ago, but this time UCF led by three points in the first half and never trailed by more than seven at any point in the game.

Heralded UCF freshman Keith Clanton had 17 points and six rebounds and he limited Tulsa's Jerome James, C-USA's Preseason Player of the Year, to just 10 points and five rebounds.

Fellow rookie Marcus Jordan showed plenty of fight throughout and added 10 points and five assists for the Knights. He had the play of the night with 5 minutes to play when he snagged a rebound and as he was falling out of bounds he passed to A.J. Tyler (six points, six rebounds) for a layup. The play got UCF to within 47-44 and caused the home crowd to throb with raw emotion.

Tulsa guards Justin Hurtt (16 points) and Ben Uzoh (15 points) hurt the Knights with big baskets when UCF sagged inside on Jerome Jordan. Uzoh hit a difficult fade-away jumper with 2:05 to play after UCF had gotten to within 51-48.

``Absolutely we can build on this. Coach told us what we shot, but we played great defense. With our bigs, that was probably their best defensive effort all year. So that's something we can really build on," Young said.

UCF returns to C-USA play on Tuesday night at East Carolina. The Knights then have a week to prepare for a Feb. 10 game at Memphis. The Knights don't play at UCF Arena again until Feb. 13 against Tulane, a game that will also be televised nationally by CBS College Sports Network.

UCF entered the game 4-0 all-time against Tulsa in Orlando. The Knights won in dramatic fashion last season when A.J. Rompza hit a running shot in the lane with less than a second remaining.

Tulsa has notched some major wins this season, beating Oklahoma State by 21 points and topping Colorado by 25 points. The Hurricane are 13-0 at home this season, a promising thing for them with the Conference USA tournament being held in Tulsa in March.

But UCF was right there and primed for the upset in the closing minute with possession of the ball and down just three points. But Marcus Jordan's pass to Isaac Sosa was tipped and then the ball bounced off Sosa's foot out of bounds. Missing a shot would have been tough enough to take, but not getting up an attempt at all made the moment even more disappointing for the Knights.

``We didn't execute what we had put together, but I guess I needed to draw up something different that we could have executed,'' Speraw said. ``It's just disappointing that we didn't get an opportunity (at a shot) there.

``We have to build on this, but we're not happy about it,'' the coach continued. ``We're disappointed in the result, but we're not disappointed in the effort and the focus of our guys.''

Young started at one of the wing spots in place of David Diakite. Diakite had started the first 20 games of this season. Young scored six points in 25 minutes.

UCF hung tough early in the game by working to get good shots on the offensive end of the floor and being the first to several loose balls on the defensive end. Tulsa came into the game first in C-USA in opponents' field goal percentage (37.9), but that didn't seem to bother the Knights in the first half as they shot 46.2 percent.

Clanton went right at Jordan, Tulsa's 7-foot center, in the first half. He aggressively sought out shots when Jordan sunk back in the lane. Clanton made four of nine shots in the first 20 minutes.

``Coach told me to be more aggressive because last time we played them they were playing so far off of me and when I didn't take the open shot it was resulting in turnovers,'' Clanton said. ``He told me to be comfortable in taking it even if I missed the shot.''

UCF showed off its depth and the balance in the first half when seven different Knights had a field goal and eight of the nine players who got into the game scored.

Rompza came into the game ranked fifth in the country in steals (2.8 per game) and eclipsed that number by halftime with three swipes. He finished the game with four steals, four points and three assists.

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