John Denton's Knights Insider: Women's Basketball Motivated For Upcoming Season

Sept. 28, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO - Most every time there's a turnover, a blown defensive assignment or a failure to block out on the boards, there's mention of last spring's gut-wrenching loss to Tulane for UCF's women's basketball team.

One would think the Knights would want to forget a crushing 63-62 Conference USA tournament defeat -- one where UCF had fought back from 11 points down and led by three with a minute play. But instead the Knights want to remember because the pain from that moment has driven the team throughout the summer and now in preseason preparation.

``That loss stays with you, especially when (the coaches) just keep talking about everything relating back to the Tulane game,'' senior forward D'Nay Daniels said while shaking her head. ``You do something wrong, it goes back to Tulane. It hurts how bad that loss was. We knew we were better than that team, but we just didn't do the little things to get it done.

``But now, thinking back to that game makes us focus on the little things and it makes us mentally tougher,'' Daniels continued. ``Just because we're tired at times, we know that we can't let things slip and let that happen again.''

Following an erratic 11-16 season in 2009-10, head coach Joi Williams is preaching to her players about investing in the process this time around instead of simply chasing a championship. About to enter her fourth season at UCF, Williams has a strong core of senior leaders for the first time and she has stressed to that group the need to take ownership in the program.

UCF won the Conference USA crown in 2009 with a team full of sophomores, and that group seemed poised to do the same last spring before the final-minute faltering against Tulane. Slow starters again last season, UCF got better as the year progressed and won seven of the last 11 games down the stretch. And the Knights showed their grit in the C-USA tourney by beating Marshall in overtime.

But the loss to Tulane, the eventual C-USA champs, ended the run and now Williams is pushing her team to prepare every day so that they don't have to experience the same pain again in the postseason.

``More than anything, as much as I hated to lose, I think (the Tulane loss) taught us a tremendous lesson about being consistent every day and having a sense of urgency,'' said Williams, whose Knights open the season Nov. 13 against the University of Florida in the Women's Preseason NIT. ``Now, that sense of urgency is here whether you want it or not because they are seniors and they get it. Losing like we did, it hit them hard. As soon as that horn sounded they knew we hadn't done everything that we could to prepare. So I think that'll be different this time. I don't think we'll have those lulls this season. We lost a ton of games by six points or less last season and we'll get that corrected.''

Williams is confident of that because of a strong senior class led by sharpshooter Chelsie Wiley, point guard Angelica Mealing, forward Leah Page, guard Jelisa Caldwell and Daniels. That senior class suffered some losses and defections along the way, but they have been through the highs and lows and have a distinct owner ship of the program now.

``I take it very serious being a senior. I was one of coach's babies when she first got here. She couldn't wait until we got up to this age where we could really understand what was going on and take leadership of the program,'' said Daniels, who finished last season strong and is one of the unquestioned leaders of the team.

``Coach has always talked about how she couldn't wait to get some seniors around the program. I feel like I'm one of her first seniors and I want to make her proud.''

Added Wiley: ``When we were freshmen we really didn't even have seniors, so we try to show the younger players the ropes and give them leadership. And there's a sense of urgency that this will be the last time that we will play on the court again together. We're pushing that sense of urgency and wanting this last time together to be good.''

Defensive ace Aisha Patrick and forward Ashia Kelly, both juniors, are also back to support the senior class. And Williams and associate head coach Greg Brown are highly excited about the strong potential of freshmen post players Sarah Green and Erika Jones, both of whom are 6-foot-2. Green, a native of Columbia, S.C., was voted the 14th best power forward and the 84th best prospect in the nation coming out of high school by Rivals.com.

Still, the Knights know they will likely only go as far as seniors such as Wiley and Mealing take them. Mealing, who averaged 6.6 points and 3.9 assists last season, has worked hard this offseason on becoming a better on-ball defender and Williams wants her to push the pace more in an attempt to get the Knights easier shots in the open court.

Wiley, who moved into UCF's top 10 all-time in scoring last season while averaging 11.6 points, has been UCF's best performer in preseason drills. She's in better shape and said she's become a smarter player through film study and learning to use screens better. She feels that UCF's attention to detail this season will help the Knights get back on top in Conference USA this season.

``Losing like we did by one point, I don't know who wouldn't be motivated to come out here and work as hard as we did that summer,'' said Wiley, who has 1,069 career points. ``I think all the time how good we can be this season, but we just have to put the work in. It's not enough to be talented; you have to put hard work with the talent. That's what makes great players and great teams great.''