John Denton's Knights Insider: Knights Clicking at Just the Right Time of Year

March 1, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFathletics.com) - UCF's women's basketball team has turned strong finishes into an art form, going 23-8 in February and March over the last three seasons. But even in the midst of a seven-game winning streak and the second seed in the Conference USA Tournament secured, head coach Joi Williams knows there's no time to relax what with this team having the potential to win a second league crown in three seasons.

``I believe in momentum, but I just don't believe that just because you did something one time that you're automatically going to do it another time,'' Williams said. ``We do have momentum right now, and we've gotten through a lot of close games and overtime, but we still have to get better. There are still areas where we know we need to get better.''

The Knights (18-10 overall and 11-4 in C-USA play) head into Thursday's regular-season finale at home against Memphis knowing that they will have a first-round bye and the No. 2 seed in the C-USA tourney. The tournament begins March 9 in El Paso, and if the Knights can beat Memphis on Thursday, they will enter the postseason as one of the league's hottest teams.

UCF hasn't lost since Jan. 30 and are a perfect 7-0 since Athletics Director Keith Tribble had a 90-minute discussion with the team about restoring pride in the program and living up to expectations. The Knights were perfect in February, winning seven games in a row to surge into the second spot behind Houston (24-4 and 15-0).

The strong closing kick is nothing new to the Knights, who usually get better as the season progresses. UCF won the C-USA title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament two years ago with an impressive finish. Last season, UCF played well in February, won a game in the C-USA tourney and lost a heartbreaker to eventual champion Tulane in the closing seconds.

This February has been spotless, meaning the Knights have won 72.4 percent of their games in February and March over the last three seasons. It is no coincidence that the Knights are at their best at the end of the season, Williams said.

``We talk about from the time that they come in from summer that we're training for March,'' Williams said. ``We want to be one of those teams that's around in March. Going into February, these seniors, their sense of urgency kicked up another notch because this is it for them. They've done a good job of leading and the younger players have done a good job of following.''

Williams is in her fourth year at UCF, and this is her first true senior class. And having players completely familiar with the program and leading the way has made all the difference in the world this season.

Seniors D'Nay Daniels and Chelsie Wiley are both members of the 1,000-point club and are the Knights leaders in crunch time. Daniels, who is averaging 14 points and 7.9 rebounds a game, is a gritty post player despite being undersized and is in many ways the heart of the team. Wiley is the player who can put up points in bunches and has averaged 14.1 points this season while making 68 more 3-pointers.

Senior guard Jelisa Caldwell is one of the most improved players on the team, averaging 9.6 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. She and sophomore reserve Gevenia Carter have given the Knights two tough ball handlers and 3-point shooters against defensive pressure. And Carter hit the shot of the season when she buried a 3-pointer from half court as time expired to lift UCF past UTEP 68-65 on Feb. 10.

And junior guard Ashia Patrick is the do-everything glue to the team, morphing into whatever the Knights need - scorer, rebounder or defender - on that particular night. For the season, the Brevard County native has averaged 10.4 points, a team-high 8.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.6 steals per game.

Put it all together and the Knights have been almost unbeatable at home and especially tough of late on the road. The Knights are 11-2 at home this season and 6-1 at UCF Arena in conference play. And following tough road wins at UAB and Southern Miss last week, the Knights seemingly have the momentum to go to El Paso next week and win another C-USA title.

``I'm very proud of what we've been able to do. We started out the conference season well and then had some inconsistency and then in February we challenged these guys to play well and get ready for March. They've done that,'' Williams said. ``We've worked hard in practice and I'm proud of where we are. Are we satisfied? No, because we still have a lot of basketball to play. We've just to put ourselves in the best position that we can going into the tournament.'' ====

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