John Denton's Knights Insider: One Game at a Time for UCF

Feb. 16, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Not long after UCF had notched its first victory in an extended period of time, relieved Knights' coach Donnie Jones was asked about his team's ability to put together another impressive winning streak down the stretch of this season.

But before the question was even finished, Jones playfully interrupted.

``I'm tired of streaks,'' Jones said with a chuckle. ``We've had a winning streak and a losing streak. I just want to focus on one game at a time.''

Undoubtedly, UCF's season has been defined by streaks what with the Knights opening the year with 14-straight victories and a rise into the national rankings for the first time in school history. But what followed was a torturous eight-game losing streak, one dominated by close losses and injuries throughout the team.

UCF ended that skid last Saturday night with a thrilling 58-57 defeat of a red-hot Tulsa team that was coming off recent defeats of Conference USA powers Memphis and UTEP. Now, the Knights (15-8, 2-8) look to keep their momentum rolling into tonight's game against Tulane (12-12, 2-9) in New Orleans.

``One win feels good, but obviously we're going to try to build on what we've done,'' Jones said. ``We've played good defense lately and that's kept us in games lately. It's given us a chance to win and we won with our defense (last Saturday) night. I still haven't slept very well, but it's because I understand the value of getting a win and the importance of the next game.''

Throughout UCF's skid, Jones insisted that his team was close to turning the corner because it kept working hard in practice and improved even as the results were still poor. UCF's steady improvement showed in narrow losses to UAB and Memphis, and the hard work paid off in the defeat of Tulsa.

The Knights know that there is still plenty to play for this season. The C-USA tournament begins March 9 in El Paso, Texas, but the Knights are focused on the regular-season task at hand for now.

``There's still a lot that we can accomplish,'' UCF sophomore forward Keith Clanton said.

Clanton was one of the stars of the Tulsa win, scoring 16 points and playing tough down the stretch. The Knights were upset that the Clanton struggled to finish post moves in the loss to Memphis, and he went to work most of last week on learning to absorb contact and finish off drives to the hoop. The hard work paid off and Clanton was UCF's closer in the defeat of Tulsa.

``He didn't take any fade-aways in the game. The biggest thing is that Keith is very talented and very smart, but he has to take that next step in his game,'' Jones said. ``He's been kind of a finesse guy. Now, in those tough times he needs to go up and take that contact and still score.''

Jones said closing out his first season as coach of the Knights the right way could be very important to the direction of the UCF program. UCF has help on the way in the form of three Division I transfers (Tristan Spurlock, Jeff Jordan and Josh Crittle) and the coaching staff has worked hard in recruiting. But Jones wants this Knights' team finish the season like it started and taste some more success.

``It's important to finish strong,'' he said. ``We have six games to play and each team brings a different challenge. You have to do well down the stretch and in the tournament to have a chance at postseason play, and that's the key.''

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