John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Shows Fight, But Falls to UAB


Jan. 29, 2011

Final Stats

="" alt="Knight Head" border="0" class="imported"> Read John Denton's Knights Insider | ="" alt="Twitter Logo" border="0" class="imported">Follow us on Twitter | ="" alt="Facebook Logo" border="0" class="imported">Get social with the Knights on Facebook

By John Denton

Box Score in PDF Format

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Up five points with five minutes to play, UCF put itself into position to simultaneously end an unpleasant and unsightly losing streak and notch one of its most impressive wins of the season Saturday night.

But down the stretch -- winning time, if you will -- the game played out like some sort of sick, twisted joke for UCF. One Knights' shot after another missed, while UAB got two clutch 3-pointers to steal a victory at UCF Arena.

UCF gave its most inspired and gritty effort in weeks, pushing Conference USA power UAB to the brink before losing 74-69 and seeing its losing streak improbably stretch to six games. One team (UAB) made shots down the stretch and another team (UCF) misfired when it counted the most, and it was basically that simple.

``We tried to play zone and play some matchup and it seemed like every time we did that they got wide-open threes,'' UCF coach Donnie Jones said. ``So give them credit because they made plays and made some tough shots down the stretch. But that's what teams who have players who make plays and make shots do.

``We missed our shots and have to get stops,'' Jones continued. ``We played well enough to win the game, but that's not what happened. You've got to finish the game and get stops when it counts.''

The loss was an excruciating one for a UCF team that dropped to 14-6 overall and 1-6 in league play.

UCF got a career-best 20 points from 7-foot senior center Tom Herzog, who posted hard and demanded the ball down low. Marcus Jordan scored 15 points and handed out five assists, while Keith Clanton added 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals.

But that stellar play was undone by a 5-minute stretch where the Knights missed six straight shots after going up by five points. And UAB (15-5, 5-2) got 3-pointers from Orlando native Dexter Fields (19 points, five 3-pointers) and Jamarr Sanders (18 points, four 3-pointers). UAB gashed UCF for 49.1 percent shooting and 10 of 20 shooting from 3-point range.

``It's our defense right now. We're not going to win another game until we pick up our defensive effort,'' said Jordan, who had to play point guard instead of shooting guard because of the foot injury to starter A.J. Rompza. ``We've just got to grind it out. We're not quitting, we're not putting our heads down. We're trying to get a win. We come into practice and work harder. Come into games and work harder.''

The Knights, with the help of one of the most loyal fan bases in Conference USA, set a new school record for attendance in a season on Saturday night. Saturday's crowd of 7,431 at UCF Arena boosted the total attendance to 85,854 for the season, breaking the previous school record of 81,161 set last season. The Knights are averaging 6,604 fans in 13 home games this season.

UCF now hits the road for two tough tests, playing at UTEP on Wednesday and at East Carolina on Saturday. The Pirates won 74-62 in Orlando on Jan. 19.

``We've got nine games still to play and we have to keep building and trying to get better,'' Jones said. "We're establishing some people at some different spots. Marcus is going to have to play the point 90 percent of the time, P.J. Gaynor is going to play the three to give us scoring. We're going to have to figure out a seven or eight-man rotation and grind it. We've got off to a great start and we've stumbled and we're not able to get a break to make a break. We've still got a lot to play for here.''

UCF started well on Saturday, jumping to a 16-9 lead by making seven of its first nine shots. But the Knights were unable to hold the lead because they couldn't get stops defensively. UAB point guard Aaron Johnson repeatedly burned the Knights, getting into the lane for seven-first half assists - many of them for layups and dunks. Six Blazers had at least four points in the first half.

UCF trailed 37-32 at the intermission, but ended the half on a positive note when freshman shooting guard Isaiah Sykes chased down an errant UAB pass, knifed his way into the lane and finished a dazzling layup in traffic.

UCF got a big first-half lift from Herzog, who made five of eight shots for 12 points in the first 20 minutes. He also had six rebounds and two blocked shots early on to keep the Knights within striking distance in the first half.

``Offensively we played well enough to win the game. We made some good plays,'' Herzog said. ``But like Marcus said, it just comes down to defending. Tonight it was defending the 3-point line and that's where we need to improve.''

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