John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Rallies, But Falls to Blazers


Feb. 24, 2010

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By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Some day, UCF coach Kirk Speraw wistfully thought aloud late Wednesday night, there will come a time when the young Knights thrive in the tense moments and finish the kind of plays that win games.

Wednesday was not one of those nights as UCF failed repeatedly with chances to take the lead late in the game and then suffered a critical turnover with 1:27 to play and lost 53-49 to UAB.

The result was particularly frustrating to UCF (13-14 overall and 5-8 in Conference USA play) because it battled back from 13 points down and had an elite UAB team (22-5, 10-3) on the ropes with 97 seconds to play.

But in a 47-45 game, Taylor Young's entry pass to A.J. Tyler was picked off by UAB's Elijah Millsap, who dunked on the other end to basically end UCF's chance of pulling off the massive upset.

Speraw was happy with the grit shown by his team in fighting back from an early hole and happy with how the Knights pushed UAB to the brink. But he also spoke longingly of a time when UCF - statistically the nation's fourth-youngest team - matures into fabulous finishers.

``We've had two ballgames now where we've done a lot of awfully good things for the majority of the minutes and we come up empty,'' Speraw said, referring to Saturday's loss in Southern Miss. ``It's frustrating for our guys. We're playing better, but one of these days we'll be able to execute and make shots in the last five minutes that will make a difference.

``That's where your experience comes in and we're having to learn some tough lessons,'' Speraw continued. ``We're experiencing some things that I wish we could just talk them through rather than have to live through. But I guess we're a group that has to live through it to learn from it. We'll keep plugging away.''

UCF got 15 points and three 3-pointers from Isaac Sosa and 15 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots from freshman Keith Clanton, but it couldn't overcome 32.1 percent shooting. The Knights took care of the ball (eight turnovers) and won the rebounding battle (38-36) against one of the conference's most athletic teams, but couldn't ever get over the hump.

UCF got the score tied twice (36-36 and 38-38), but never led.

It certainly didn't help that UCF was without emotional leader and starting point guard A.J. Rompza after the sophomore was hit with a flagrant foul in the loss to Southern Miss. Rompza, who is sixth nationally in steals at 2.8 a game and also averages 9.6 points and 4.5 assists, will be available on Saturday when the Knights play at Marshall.

``It's a real tough loss for us because we thought we could win the game even without Rompza,'' said Clanton, who played 35 minutes despite spraining his knee early in the game. ``Everybody stepped up to play harder without Rompza in the lineup and we thought we had a chance at the end but some silly turnovers lost us the game.''

How frustrating of a shooting night was it for UCF? The Knights scrapped for 16 offensive rebounds, but got just 11 points out of those extra chances because of missed layups. Too often, the Knights had to hurry attempts at the end of the shot clock or just couldn't convert baskets in traffic.

``We're getting good shots. I mean we're really getting good shots,'' Speraw said. ``But we just have to be able to step up there and drill them on a more consistent basis. We missed a lot of bunnies inside. We get rebounds and can't finish the putback and we get great post-ups and we can't finish. We have to be more productive on that.''

Dexter Fields, an Olympia High School product from Orlando, led UAB with 13 points and four 3-pointers.

UCF trailed 31-23 at the half, but it could have been much worse had the Knights not rallied and scrapped to keep pace with the bigger, more athletic Blazers. UCF had a dismal start to the game and trailed 18-5 early on.

But cornerstones Sosa and Clanton would not let the Knights go quietly. Sosa had eight first-half points, including a 25-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to draw UCF back within eight points of the lead. Clanton had six points, four rebounds and two blocks in the first 20 minutes.

``At the beginning we started really slow because we couldn't get anything in transition, but we fought back and did a great job in the last part of the first half,'' Sosa said. ``We could have beat them, but we just made some stupid plays here and there and missed some free throws, including myself.''

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