John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Motivated by 2010 Tulane Loss

March 11, 2011

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By John Denton

EL PASO, Texas. (UCFathletics.com) - Long before the season ever started, UCF's women's basketball team had the score ``63-62'' posted on each player's dressing stall, scrawled across the locker room dry-erase board for all to see and mentioned at almost every practice.

It was a not-so-subtle reminder of the heartbreaking last-minute loss that Tulane handed the Knights last spring in the 2010 Conference USA Championship.

Now, it's only fitting that second-seeded UCF and fourth-seeded Tulane - C-USA champions from 2009 and 2010, respectively - will face off Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET for the 2011 championship. It's a moment that the Knights, in particular, have waited for for months after enduring a season of cutting 63-62 reminders.

``For us, it's a chance at revenge in a way because they took something away from us last season,'' said UCF senior forward D'Nay Daniels, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds in the Knights' 81-63 rout of Memphis in Friday's semifinals. ``(The 2010 loss to Tulane) motivated us a lot and this is what we worked for all season - a chance to beat them. We don't want that feeling of losing to them again.''

UCF reached the title game on Friday by registering its best offensive game of the season. The Knights got 21 points from senior guard Chelsie Wiley, double-digit scoring from all five starters for the first time and a season-best 11 3-pointers.

Tulane (22-9) pulled off the upset of the tournament, defeating Houston 70-60 on Friday afternoon. Houston went 16-0 in C-USA play during the regular season, beating Tulane both times in the regular season. But the Green Wave built a six-point halftime lead, held tough in the second half and pulled away late to reach the championship game for a second consecutive season.

Now, Tulane will collide with UCF once again in the C-USA Championship.

``There are three teams from last year's tournament that could point at us for motivation,'' Tulane coach Lisa Stockton said. ``I think our team has a chip on its shoulder too because we're returning a lot of players, we had a little skid in the middle of the season and we felt like we were a better team than the fourth seed. Our motivation is more internal.''

UCF hits Saturday's championship game having won 10 games in a row, one of which was a 73-69 overtime defeat of Tulane on Feb. 17. UCF rallied from 10 points down with seven minutes to play to force overtime - its biggest comeback of the season before Thursday's 15-point turnaround in the semifinals against UAB.

The Knights were able to grind out a victory against Tulane in February despite Daniels (17 points, seven rebounds and five steals) fouling out early in overtime and Wiley suffering through a dismal shooting game. Instead, it was the likes of sophomore guard Gevenia Carter (15 points off the bench) and senior forward Jelisa Carter (12 points and six rebounds) who helped the Knights secure one of the biggest victories of the season.

``That was a big win for us,'' UCF associate head coach Greg Brown said. ``We referenced back to the loss against them during the tournament several times during the season. Getting beat the way we did against them (in the tournament), we made a more concerted effort all season on getting back defensively and it made us better.''

UCF head coach Joi Williams believes that the experience that Daniels, Wiley, Caldwell, Aisha Patrick and Ashia Kelly got two years ago in the championship game will aid the Knights in Saturday's title game.

``The way I see it, it can only help us,'' Williams said. ``It doesn't guarantee us anything, but in terms of being here before and being in this spot, we can draw from that experience. It certainly can't hurt us.''

Wiley, who enters Saturday's game one 3-pointer shy of equaling the school record for a career, said winning a second championship would help cement this team's legacy in UCF history. But for now, he focus is singularly on just trying to win one more game.

``I think about (the legacy), but we're trying to take it one game at a time. With the championship game here now, we know that if we just take care of our business everything will take care of itself,'' Wiley said. ``We're just focused on the `right now.'''

In the minutes before departing the team hotel early Friday morning for the semifinal game against Memphis, Daniels paused and briefly looked over her 2009 Conference USA championship ring for inspiration. She has refused to wear that ring this week, insisting that she will only do so when she has a second one to match it. Do that and Daniels knows that she'll no longer have to hear the ``63-62'' reminders.

``I brought the ring with me, but I haven't worn it. I looked at it this morning and it reminded me of how happy I was and how much we fought for that,'' Daniels said. ``If we can do that again, it would be so incredible.''


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