John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Knocks Off Memphis to Reach C-USA Championship Game


March 11, 2011

Final Stats | Photo Gallery

UCF 81, Memphis 63

Read John Denton's Knights Insider | Follow us on Twitter | Get social with the Knights on Facebook

By John Denton

EL PASO, Texas. (UCFathletics.com) - If UCF's 15-point, come-from-behind victory on Thursday was the sports equivalent of a near-death experience, Friday's performance had to feel, at times, like an out-of-body experience for the Knights.

Scared straight after nearly losing in the quarterfinals a day earlier, UCF rebounded on Friday with its best offensive game of the season to put the women's basketball program back in the Conference USA title game on Saturday night.

Second-seeded UCF made a season-high 11 3-pointers and placed all five starters in double figures in scoring for the first time in an 81-63 rout of rival Memphis in semifinal play of the Conference USA Championship.

UCF (21-10) won its 10th straight game, the longest winning spree in school history since the 1983-84 season. Also, the Knights' 18-point margin of victory on Friday was the biggest semifinal win in C-USA Championship history. It was diametrically opposite to Thursday's game when UCF trailed UAB by 15 points and needed a furious rally to win 51-47.

``I think (the UAB rally) woke us up and taught us a huge lesson that anything is possible and to never give up. We knew that we had to come back strong (on Friday),'' said UCF senior D'Nay Daniels, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds. ``On Thursday, we just kept on fighting and fighting and it just wasn't meant for us to go home yet.''

The Knights will face fourth-seeded Tulane in the C-USA Championship Game on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. The Knights topped Tulane 73-69 in overtime on Feb. 17. The Green Wave eliminated UCF in the quarterfinals of last season's conference tournament, 63-62, a loss that has stuck with the Knights all season.

UCF won the C-USA championship in 2009 and is hoping to repeat the feat for a second time in three seasons.

``That's something that we've talked about and dreamed about as far as our vision of winning another championship,'' UCF head coach Joi Williams said. ``We want to make sure that we do everything in our power to make sure it happens. These seniors have done everything in their power to get here, they know what to expect and their focus is great right now.''

That focus was apparent right away on Friday as UCF led by as much as 22 points (38-16) early in the first half against a Memphis team built around defense and rebounding. UCF dominated the boards throughout, outrebounding the Tigers (21-11), 45-34.

UCF hit 42.1 percent of its shots, a big improvement over the 32 percent it shot on Thursday. The Knights also set a season high with 11 made 3-pointers on 20 attempts.

``The UAB game made us think about how that could have been our last game and I think that really set in with us before this game,'' said senior guard Chelsie Wiley, who scored a game-high 21 points. ``The big turnaround came yesterday and it carried over to this game.''

A day after missing 10 of 11 shots, Wiley made six of 12 shots and four 3-pointers to spark UCF's offense. She needs one more 3-pointer to tie the all-time school-record for threes in a career (213) set by Francine Houston from 2004-07.

Junior forward Ashia Kelly, who sparked Thursday's stirring second-half rally with her energy and defense, hit three 3-pointers in the first half and scored 12 points in the game. Kelly, who averaged just 4.4 points this season, made a career-best four 3-pointers when the Memphis defense sagged off of her to defend against Wiley and Daniels.

``My teammates have just encouraged me to let it go,'' Kelly said. ``I'm just out there playing my heart out because I don't want these seniors to go home.''

Junior point guard Aisha Patrick was her usual do-everything self with 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Senior guard Jelisa Caldwell scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds, handed out three assists and made two free throws.

Clearly sparked by its first-day struggles, UCF came out inspired on Friday with arguably its best half of the season and led Memphis 45-29 at intermission.

The Knights, who needed their biggest rally of the season to defeat UAB on Thursday, shot 50 percent in the first half and made seven of 10 3-point shots to take a commanding lead.

``There's no question what yesterday did for us. We look at that game and we were very fortunate to come out and beat a good UAB team,'' Williams said. ``Our seniors made sure that we had a much better start and it started with our defense and they bought in to that. That's why the game (on Friday) was different.''

UCF's fast start was significant on several fronts. The Knights are now 9-2 when scoring at least 70 points and 3-0 when hitting the 80-point mark. UCF is also 18-3 when leading at the half. Memphis had been 13-1 this season when holding foes under 60 points, but UCF exceeded that mark by the 11-minute mark of the second half.

Daniels, who had seven points in the first 20 minutes, ended the first half fittingly enough with a streaking layup to boost the Knights' advantage to 16 points.

UCF came out locked in from the start, shooting the ball early on as well as it has at any point this season. UCF made its first five shots and four 3-pointers to race to a 15-4 lead. By the 8-minute mark of the first half, UCF shockingly led 28-12 - nearly the same score (27-12) that they trailed by at halftime on Thursday against UAB.

The Knights had 12 points in the first 2 minutes, 51 seconds of Friday's game - as many as they had in Thursday's forgettable first half. Clearly, Friday was a new day and the Knights took advantage of its second chance to get back to the C-USA title game.

``Everybody was so focused and ready to start strong in this game,'' said Daniels. ``When we start strong we usually play well and that was the case today.''

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