John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Still Has Much to Play For

Feb. 25, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Throughout the recent upturn in play and even during the midseason slump, Donnie Jones' message to his UCF men's basketball team never changed. A berth in the postseason is very much still within reach for a Knights' team that has continued to show tremendous resiliency.

With 17 wins and three victories in the last four games, the Knights are hoping that a strong closing kick and a good showing in the March 9-12 Conference USA tournament can vault them into a postseason tournament. While Jones has continued to keep the focus on the next game - and in this case it's Saturday night at home against C-USA power Southern Miss - he's also continued to stress to his team that there is still a lot to play for.

``Absolutely, we talk postseason a lot,'' Jones said. ``We're 67th in RPI and we have six Top 100 wins, which is the most in school history. We've put ourselves in a position to control our own destiny with a win every time out from here. And we're still playing good teams in our league. With Southern Miss, SMU and Marshall (up next for UCF) that's three more Top 100 teams, so that could help our RPI in a big way and it could help our seeding for the conference tournament.''

UCF (17-9 overall and 4-9 in C-USA play) made its case for being worthy of the postseason earlier this week when it upset UTEP 74-68 with its most complete victory of the season. The Knights shut down UTEP's explosive offense and got scoring production from seven players (all with at least seven points) for a victory that has their confidence soaring now.

``It's always good to go on the road and get a win, but to do it against somebody on the top of our league felt great,'' UCF sophomore guard Marcus Jordan said. ``We're just trying to get wins every time that we play. Everybody's confidence is rising.''

UCF's résumé is impressive with wins against Florida, Miami, South Florida, UTEP and Tulsa. And beating Southern Miss - arguably C-USA's best team - would be another huge victory for a UCF team attempting to make a late push to cover up their eight-game skid in the midseason.

Southern Miss (21-6 and 9-4) is tied atop the league with Memphis and UAB. The Golden Eagles beat UCF 86-69 on Jan. 15 by breaking open a one-point game with a 50-34 second half.

UCF will undoubtedly need a big game from power forward Keith Clanton to win. UCF's coaches have been on Clanton to play with more power and aggression and he's responded in a big way of late by attacking the rim more and settling for fade-away shots less. He will also be matched up with Southern Miss power forward Gary Flowers, a C-USA Player of the Year candidate who is averaging 19.8 points and 7.8 rebounds a game.

Clanton said Monday's defeat of UTEP did wonders for the psyche of the Knights. Now, he's hoping that a win against Southern Miss will improve UCF's chances of playing beyond the C-USA tournament.

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