John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Looking for Big Upset in Tulsa

March 11, 2010

By John Denton

TULSA, Okla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Already the owners of one upset in the Conference USA tournament, the UCF Knights will attempt to shock the basketball world tonight when they face 21st-ranked and top-seeded UTEP at 10 p.m. EST.

The ninth-seeded Knights put themselves in position for tonight's game by routing SMU 69-53 Wednesday night at Tulsa's BOK Center. It was the only win by a lower-seeded C-USA team on Wednesday.

UTEP dominated the conference this season, going 15-1 in league play, 24-5 overall and winning the last 14 games. Their lone league loss came at Houston on Jan. 13. Coincidentally, Houston topped Memphis on Thursday in tournament play.

Coach Tony Barbee, who recruited five Memphis players and transfer Derrick Caracter to UTEP, was named the Conference USA coach of the Year. And dynamic shooting guard Randy Culpepper was voted as the Player of the Year.

``They've had a tremendous year. I didn't think anybody could go through the conference the way they did,'' UCF coach Kirk Speraw said. ``I thought our champ would have three or four losses because we're so balanced. But give UTEP credit because they took on all challenges. They're deep and have a lot of weapons.''

UCF got to see that firsthand on Jan. 23 when UTEP came into Orlando and won 96-59. The Knights actually led 33-32 late in the first half that night before things fell apart. But UCF shot just 18.8 percent in the second half and Culpepper outscored the Knights 25-18 all by himself.

Culpepper scored 39 points that day, 25 of them coming in the second half. He made nine of 15 3-pointers with six of them coming after the break.

``It'll be hard to look at that tape because they really took it at us,'' Speraw said. ``They took it at us in the second half. They're one of the top 20 teams in the country, they're playing well and they deserve it.''

UCF was also routed in January by SMU, but came back late Wednesday to whip the Mustangs this time around. UCF shot a dazzling 54 percent, hit seven 3-pointers and frustrated SMU with its 1-3-1 zone defense.

Now, they will try to pull off a similar turnaround against the heavily favored Miners.

``We still have a lot of work to do, but we like how we're playing right now,'' said UCF guard Taylor Young, who scored 15 points in the SMU victory.

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