John Denton's Knights Insider: Postseason Run Enjoyable for Knights

March 23, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The long-term merits of UCF's run through the College Basketball Invitational can be debated, but the short-term virtues on the Knights' men's basketball team are undeniable.

Point guard A.J. Rompza is again oozing confidence and playing his best basketball of the season. Tom Herzog, getting his first meaningful minutes in a postseason, has become a consistent low-post threat, while fellow senior A.J. Tyler has become a clutch 3-point marksman. And young players Keith Clanton and Isaiah Sykes have passed pressure-packed postseason tests while giving glimpses of their bright futures.

And a Knights team that went through some growing pains midseason is again resembling the group that stormed through November and December with a 14-0 start. The CBI has had remarkable rejuvenation qualities to it for the Knights.

``It's a team effort right now because we have so many guys playing well at the end of the season,'' Rompza, who had seven points, five rebounds and three assists in UCF's 66-54 defeat of Rhode Island Wednesday night. ``It's hard for other teams against us because they can't just lock down on one or two guys because we have so many guys playing well now. We're playing well and having fun.''

UCF (21-11) hopes that fun continues Wednesday night in the semifinals of the CBI when it faces Creighton (21-14) in Omaha, Neb. The winner advances to the championship round against either Oregon (18-17) or Boise State (22-12) in a best-of-three series.

The Knights are hoping to pull off a similar run to what Virginia Commonwealth has done in the past year. VCU won the CBI title last March and used it as a springboard to this season's NCAA Tournament, where it has won three times to reach the Sweet 16.

Now, the Knights want to keep winning and build experience for a NCAA run next season.

``VCU was sitting here last year just like us. They had a chance to win out and then bring their team back the next year. We want to be able to keep this thing alive and have a chance to win this,'' UCF coach Donnie Jones said. ``That's why we're playing. Our guys have done a good job at practice. We've had seven practices and two games since the season was supposedly over. That's huge for our team because we'll bring back our whole starting lineup plus six or seven new guys.''

Two subplots in tonight's game regard UCF's travel and Creighton's best player. Because of the short turnaround time between Monday's win and Wednesday's game, UCF was unable to book travel to Creighton on Tuesday and will be flying to Nebraska on Wednesday.

Said Rompza: ``It's always tough going on the road, but it's how you go about it. You can either say you're tired and not go and play or you suck it up and go play basketball.''

Creighton's best player, 6-foot-7 freshman forward Doug McDermott, nearly ended up at UCF, but the Iowa native ultimately chose the Blue Jays. He was hosted during his recruiting trip by several UCF players. He's since blossomed into a standout, averaging 15 points and 7.7 rebounds. He had 31 points and 10 rebounds in Creighton's defeat of Davidson on Monday.

``Doug is a cool kid and a great guy and he's having a great year,'' UCF senior A.J. Tyler said. ``I'm looking forward to seeing him. A couple of guys on our team hosted him when he came on the visit here, so it'll be fun playing against him now.'' And UCF hopes the real fun comes in the form of more promising play from several of their players and the Knights can somehow get to the CBI championship series.

``Everyone is just having fun and playing. It's what we've been doing our whole lives and we're not over-thinking it and just having fun every time out,'' said Tyler, who had 11 points and two 3-pointers in Monday's win. ``It's a crazy turnaround for us, but it's fun and we're just enjoying it and taking the games as they come. We're lucky that we had a couple of home games and now we have to go on the road and take care of business there.''

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