John Denton's Knights Insider: Women's Basketball Wins C-USA Championship, Earns NCAA Bid


March 12, 2011

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By John Denton

EL PASO, Texas - The moment UCF had waited for since last spring - a chance to beat rival Tulane and exorcise some old demons - became a reality on Saturday and also helped the Knights win a second Conference USA Championship in three seasons.

Second-seeded UCF showed the resiliency of champions throughout, getting contributions from up and down the roster and winning the battle on the boards in an 85-73 defeat of fourth-seeded Tulane in the C-USA title game.

``We stuck together, we trusted what the coaches told us and we trusted each other and we came into this game with a chip on our shoulder,'' said UCF junior point guard Aisha Patrick, who had 11 points, 12 rebounds, seven steals and six assists. ``They beat us 63-62 last year and that was in the back of our heads. We came out with a sense of urgency and played so well together.''

Winners now of 11 straight games - an impressive streak that stretches all the way back to early February - UCF (22-10) earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament starting on Friday.

When the game ended, confetti poured out of the rafters at the Don Haskins Center and tears streamed down the face of several UCF players much to the delight of the black-and-gold clad fans who chanted ``U-C-F!''

``It's been such a long journey for these seniors. Going into the month of February we talked about playing as well as we could and we did that and I can't say enough about these five seniors and this team,'' said UCF coach Joi Williams, a two-time a conference champ. ``We played with that sense of urgency and I'm so proud of them.''

The C-USA Championship is a second in three seasons for standout seniors Chelsie Wiley, D'Nay Daniels and Jelisa Caldwell. The Knights, also champions in 2009, secured the title with a 9-0 run after Tulane (22-10) had gotten to within 70-68 with 5:08 to play.

``(Winning a second title) is something that's very special to us and it's a legacy that we can pass down to our freshmen and sophomores,'' Wiley said. ``We've left our footprint and this is something that they can chase after.''

Caldwell, a 5-foot-10 forward from Macon, Ga., was named the C-USA Championship Most Valuable Player after scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. She made nine of 22 shots, two 3-pointers and seven of eight free throws.

``The main thing that I was trying to focus on was rebounding,'' said Caldwell, who had six offensive boards. ``We knew coming in that defense and rebounding would be key. I just got back to rebounding and that led to the rim getting a lot bigger for me.''

UCF won the game by doing the dirty work throughout. The Knights outrebounded Tulane 45-32 while also snatching 20 offensive boards. They also swiped 11 steals, forced 21 turnovers and turned those Tulane mistakes into a staggering 30 points. A 25-12 advantage on the boards at halftime told Williams early on that her team was ready to play.

``That told me that we believed what we had told them because (rebounding) was all that we had been talking about,'' Williams said. ``I think (Associate Head Coach Greg) Brown lost a little more hair because he had been talking about rebounding so much. We knew whoever won the rebounding war would win the championship.''

Wiley, who moved into a tie for the most career 3-pointers (213) in school history, scored 13 points for the Knights. Daniels, also an All-Tournament performer, added 12 points.

Ashia Kelly, a spark plug throughout the tournament for the Knights, had 10 points, while sophomore guard Gevenia Carter added 10 more points.

The victory was sweet revenge for a UCF team that was beaten 63-62 by Tulane last season in the C-USA tournament in Tulsa, Okla. The Knights used the defeat as motivation all season, posting the score in players' lockers and scrawling it all throughout the dressing room.

UCF reached the championship game by rallying back from 15 points down on Thursday against UAB and routing Memphis on Friday in the semifinals. The Knights' comeback in the quarterfinals was their biggest rally of the season, and it made Saturday's title even more special.

``Thursday was Thursday, we just tried to stay in the moment (on Saturday) and not look back in the past,'' Daniels said. ``We just trusted the process to get where we are. We moved ahead, Thursday was Thursday and Saturday was Saturday.''

Tulane, the defending C-USA champs, got to the title game a second straight year by upsetting Houston on Friday. Top-seeded Houston had gone 16-0 in conference play during the regular season.

UCF led 41-35 at the half after dominating the glass early on, but the tenor of the game changed somewhat in the first four minutes of the second half. Tulane made six of its first 11 shots to start the second half and stormed to a 47-46 lead.

By the midway point of the second half, the two teams had already exchanged the lead a whopping 14 times in the game. No more than six points separated the teams through the first 30 minutes of play.

``They came out the second half with three fouls and they came at us and hit some shots, but we withstood that,'' Williams said. ``We knew it would be a game of runs and I told them in the huddle to just exhale and that we were fine. We just needed to get back to doing what we do and we did that.''

UCF defeated Tulane in the regular season by rallying back from 10 points down in the final seven minutes. The Knights won 73-69 in overtime on Feb. 17 by getting clutch performances from Aisha Patrick, Gevenia Carter and Caldwell.

Caldwell and Carter, two of the heroes of UCF's overtime defeat of Tulane in February, combined for 19 points in the first half. Their production was a welcomed site what with Daniels having played just five minutes in the opening half after picking up two quick fouls.

Caldwell started the game strong and had 11 first-half points, while Carter scored eight points off the bench in the first 20 minutes. Wiley, who struggled mightily with her shot a month ago against Tulane, had eight first-half points, while Kelly continued her strong play in the tournament with seven points in the first half.

``We believed in each other, think of each other as sisters and made sure we had each other's backs throughout the game,'' said Caldwell, who nearly reached her season high of 30 points. ``That, and rebounding of course, is what helped us win a second championship.''

Now, the Knights are headed back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. They will find out their seed and first-round foe during Monday's Selection Show. Williams like the vibes around a team that hasn't lost a game since Jan. 30 and is on the longest winning streak in school history since the 1983-84 season.

``We're excited to be on a national stage and the NCAA Tournament is what everybody plays for,'' Williams said. ``Back in the summer when this team was getting up early and lifting weights twice a week we told them to keep their eye on the prize. We told them when we won the championship that they wouldn't feel any pain. I'm so excited for them. They've been through a lot of adversity and I don't know if there was a lot of people outside of our locker room who thought we'd be sitting here. But I'm so happy to be here now and to be a part of these seniors lives the last four years.''

2011 All-Tournament Team
MVP: Jelisa Caldwell, UCF
D'Nay Daniels, UCF
Chelsie Wiley, UCF
Roshaunda Barnes, Tulane
Danielle Nunn, Tulane


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