John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Ready to Face SMU

March 10, 2010

By John Denton

TULSA, Okla. (UCFAthletics.com) - One of the biggest misconceptions about memories is that it's the good ones that always have the most lasting effect. But sometimes, in sports at least, it's the bad memories that linger the longest, the losing that hurts more than the winning feels good and ultimately they provide the most inspiration.

Such is the case with UCF's men's basketball team, a squad more than eager to face SMU tonight in the Conference USA tournament at Tulsa's sparkling, new BOK Center. Tipoff is at 9:30 p.m. EST. It will be a night of many firsts for a Knights squad that is among the youngest in the country. But UCF will also be out for redemption tonight after SMU whipped UCF back in January in one of the low points of an otherwise solid season.

Eighth-seeded SMU (14-16) beat ninth-seeded UCF (14-16) 65-43 back on Jan. 27 in suburban Dallas. That night, UCF trailed 41-16 at the half, never led and fell behind by as much as 30 points in the second half.

For four days since the season-ending defeat of Rice, UCF has had to relive the memories of the SMU loss in January. It ignited their competitive pride and the hope is that tonight's conference tournament opener for the Knights will be largely about getting revenge against SMU.

``That loss is a big driving factor for us,'' UCF guard Taylor Young said. ``We watched the film the other day and to look at the scoreboard at certain points in the game, it was just sickening. No one felt they played well that night. It was a game where we felt we weren't ourselves. So it's a huge driving factor to play well against these guys now in the tournament.''

With a team of mostly sophomores and juniors and only one senior (Drew Speraw), the season has been one of a lot of firsts for the Knights. Veteran head coach Kirk Speraw is anxious to see how his team responds to facing SMU again, but also eager to see how the Knights deal with the pressure of tournament play.

``That's the question right now, how will they respond to tournament play?'' Speraw said. ``It's different and more intense, people getting after it and there's a greater sense of urgency. It'll be very interesting to see how our guys respond. I really think we'll be ready.''

UCF couldn't have been ready for what happened back on Jan. 27 against SMU. The Knights made just six of 21 shots in the first half, but trailed by just six points midway through the opening period. But when the missed shots piled up, UCF's frustration mounted.

They ultimately made just 36 percent of their shots that day. Forward Keith Clanton, who was named to the C-USA All-Freshman squad on Monday along with teammate Marcus Jordan, was one of the lone bright spots that night. He made five of seven shots and he was the only Knight in double figures in scoring with 11 points.

Young, who has morphed into one of the Knights biggest leaders on the court and in the locker room, feels UCF has grown as a team and will be ready to play its best basketball this postseason. He said the pain of the SMU loss has sparked the Knights to redeem themselves tonight.

``I think as a young team our guys will look at this as a big challenge and be excited by it,'' said Young, who has been UCF's best 3-point shooter since moving into the starting lineup. ``It's a great opportunity for us and we'll accept it and be ready to play well. Hopefully we'll thrive under these circumstances.''

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