John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Plans to Stay on the Run vs. USF

Nov. 18, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Running the way that the UCF men's basketball team does, trapping defensively all over the floor and pushing the ball at every opportunity, has a way of wearing down opponents and benefitting the Knights.

The style introduced by new head coach Donnie Jones has produced blowout victories in each of the Knights' first two games. Now, Thursday night against arch-rival USF, the Knights will test out there new style against a higher level of competition and see if they can continue to break the will of a foe. UCF's belief is certainly growing in the new system, and the hope is that nothing will change against South Florida.

``It's fun to play our style, but we pay the price in conditioning. It feels really good to be in great shape and force your will on opponents,'' UCF guard Taylor Young said. ``That style of play wears (other teams) down. The idea is that it's a 40-minute game, not a 20-minute game. For somebody to play through that for a long time, it can wear them out.''

The Knights' up-tempo style of play has helped them throttle West Florida by 54 points and Jackson State by another 41 points so far. They've averaged a whopping 97.5 points a game, far more than the 66.7 points a game from a season ago. More importantly, UCF's swarming defense has limited foes to 50 points and 27.3 percent shooting while forcing 19 turnovers a game.

``When you can get a team out of sync and they start throwing bad passes, it creates easy shots for you. (Against Jackson State) we were getting layups off of turnovers and Dave (Diakite) was getting dunks,'' UCF starting point guard A.J. Rompza said. ``It's a great way for us to get started and a great way for us to get an early start with a couple of early steals off turnovers. That's huge for us.''

Getting off to a fast start against USF (1-1) could be huge for the Knights. South Florida lost 60-53 in its season opener against Conference USA member, Southern Miss, but they bounced back to beat St. Francis (N.Y.). The Bulls are still trying to adjust to the loss of standout guard Dominique Jones, who is now playing for the Dallas Mavericks.

``They are very big, athletic and they rebound the ball well. They have some talented newcomers from junior college who are good scorers,'' Jones said of USF. ``They are kind of a team in transition after losing a great scorer in Dominique Jones, so they are trying to fit people into new spots. They're a little like us in that they are learning to play with new players.''

UCF seems to have made the transition to Jones' up-tempo style of play seamlessly so far. An emphasis was put on players being in elite conditioning before the season, and the Knights have been able to keep up their breakneck pace because of their depth and stamina. UCF's fast start has even been impressive to Jones, who has been pleased with his team's commitment and work so far.

``We've done a better job defensively than we expected. From the press to our half court defense, we've done a good job with that,'' Jones said. ``And sharing the basketball, we've done a pretty good job with that, too. We're sharing it and making plays for each other. There's always room for improvement, but I think we've played to our level and not to the level of our opponents.''

The Knights have gotten tremendous production from sophomores Marcus Jordan and Keith Clanton in a variety of ways. Jordan is averaging a team-best 20.5 points a game after hanging 28 on West Florida and 13 on Jackson State. He made five 3-pointers in the opener, but adjusted his game on Monday and scored on moves to the basket and by getting to the free throw line seven times.

Clanton, who is benefitting greatly from the new wide-open style of play, made his first 12 shots of the season before finally misfiring on a second-half 3-point attempt on Monday. He's given the Knights 18 points and eight rebounds a game so far.

And UCF has done the rest with its depth. Jones can go 12 players deep on this team to ensure that the Knights can continue to hound the ball defensively and push the pace offensively.

``Every day since we've arrived we're trying to implement this style and how we work out, train and prepare, everything has been about what we're selling,'' said Jones, who became UCF's coach in late March. ``I know it takes time, but the kids have done a good job of focusing in. We have to continue to take them one at a time because different matchups present different problems. South Florida obviously presents different matchup problems for us.''

And Young, one of UCF's three seniors, hopes that USF has plenty of problems with the Knights' frenetic style of play and its noisy home crowd. He said there's a belief coursing through the team now that it can accomplish big things.

``I'm pretty sure that everyone is fully bought in to what we're doing now,'' Young said. ``We believe in what the coaching staff is telling us and we believe in each other and that's so important.''

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