John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Rallies From 15 Down to Defeat UAB in C-USA Championship Quarterfinals


March 10, 2011

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UCF 51, UAB 47

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By John Denton

EL PASO, Texas. (UCFathletics.com) - UCF women's basketball coach Joi Williams verbally blistered her team at halftime - to the point that several players were trembling and shaking - but it was more the fear of having the season come to an end that motivated the Knights to pull off a comeback for the ages on Thursday.

Down 15 points at halftime after a dreadful first 20 minutes, UCF pulled of its biggest comeback of the season to beat UAB, 51-47, in quarterfinal play of the Conference USA tournament.

The second-seeded Knights, winners of nine straight games now, never gave up on the game despite shooting 20.8 percent early on and getting whipped on the glass in a 12-point first half. Senior forward D'Nay Daniels (18 points), junior guard Aisha Patrick (15 points) and junior forward Ashia Kelly (nine points) combined to score 33 of UCF's 39 second-half points. And UCF took the lead for good on senior Chelsie Wiley's deep 3-pointer - her only basket of the game - with 2:54 to play.

``Coach just shook us to our core. We finally realized that this could be our final game if we didn't start playing better. And we took Coach's energy from halftime and transferred it to the court,'' Wiley said. ``We were literally trembling. When you start to realize that this could be it for you as a player and your team, it should bother you. And especially when you are out there playing like (garbage), it should bother you. Thank goodness, we went out and did something about it.''

Did they ever? UCF outscored UAB 39-20 and outrebounded the Blazers 25-13 in the second half. UCF's change in attitude was noticeable almost from the start of the second half with players repeatedly diving on the floor and the Knights got an emotional lift from the gritty hustle provided by Kelly on the boards.

And down the stretch, UCF's defense allowed just two field goals in the final five minutes to pave the way for the thrilling victory. The victory gave UCF (20-10) its first 20-win season since 1998-99 and set the stage for Friday's 11 a.m. semifinal game against the Memphis at the Don Haskins Center.

Previously, UCF's biggest comeback of the season was rallying from a 10-point deficit to beat Tulane in overtime on Feb. 17. And before Thursday, the Knights had been 0-7 this season when trailing at halftime. But this time, UCF played like a team that wouldn't be denied.

``I can't remember when I've been in a game like this and I don't want to be in another one. I told the team, `That's it for this year and we don't need to be in another like that again,''' Williams said. ``To me, it's just a testament to how much they trust one another and believe in one another. We talked about not knowing how it was going to happen, but we trusted that it would happen. It's a great feeling and something we can enjoy for a few hours.''

Mired in one of her worst shooting slumps of the season, Wiley picked a good time to hit a game-turning and season-saving 3-pointer. Wiley drilled a clutch 3-pointer with 2:54 to play to cap a furious rally all the way back from the 15-point halftime deficit.

Wiley, UCF's leading scorer during the regular season at 14.2 points per game, missed her first nine shots and all four of her 3-point attempts in Thursday's game before the clutch shot. But she never hesitated on the 3-pointer that put the Knights into the lead for the first time since 9-8 early in the first half.

``I have great teammates that kept me focused and our bench was into the game. I just tried to stay in the moment,'' Wiley said. ``That's what you have to do - don't think about the last shot. Just think about the next big one that you can make. I really didn't pay attention to the score, but I just tried to take the best shot for our team at the time. Fortunately, it went in.''

Unable to get much going at all offensively and showing signs of rust after being off the past seven days, UCF trailed UAB 27-12 at halftime. UCF made 11 of 26 shots in the second half after a sloppy first half in which it made just five of 24 tries.

UCF actually led 7-2 early in the game and seemed ready to build a big lead, but then its offense fell apart when shots wouldn't fall. At one point in the first half, UCF missed 10 shots in a row and 14 of 15 during one stretch.

UCF led 9-8 midway through the first half on a steal and layup by Daniels. But from there, UCF struggled on both ends of the floor and a 15-1 burst by UAB put the Knights behind 23-10. Daniels' bank shot with 2:41 to play in the half ended an offensive drought of 10 straight misses for UCF.

So how fiery was Williams' halftime speech to her team?

``When we went into the locker room coach gave us a speech that made us shake and tremble,'' Daniels said. ``It was about taking our jerseys away and how we wouldn't be able to play anymore. ... It was like a hurricane.

``We just came out with a sense of urgency and a lot of intensity and that's what helped change the game,'' Daniels continued.

Williams hopes that her team will get a bounce from Thursday's emotional come-from-behind victory and play much better on Friday. She said she could never remember a team in all of her years of coaching and playing basketball that a team of hers scored just 12 points in the first half. But undoubtedly the second half will be one remembered for years to come.

``They really dug down deep and came back. We challenged them to not watch the scoreboard and to play every possession and we did that,'' Williams said. ``To get down in a hole like we did, a lot of teams will get tight. But we didn't because we didn't have anything to lose. We just had to keep plugging and fighting.''


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