John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Shows Potential in the Bahamas

Nov. 28, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - With a stated goal of getting to the NCAA Tournament this season firmly in place, UCF took a major step toward proving its legitimacy as one of the country's elite teams by showing that it can compete and beat the best of the best.

Victors last weekend against defending national champions UConn and a likely NCAA tourney team in College of Charleston, UCF alerted the college basketball world of its potential. UCF (4-2) lost in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament to undefeated Harvard, but still the Knights emerged feeling good about where they are six games into a very promising season.

``I think this just shows that we can compete with anybody, compete with any team in the country,'' said UCF standout power forward Keith Clanton, who averaged 20 points over the three games in the Bahamas. ``I just feel like even against the big-name schools, we can compete with them and go out and play them really hard.''

UCF's 68-63 defeat of UConn will go down as the biggest win in school history considering the Huskies' credentials coming into the game. Not only had UConn won the national championship a season prior, but it entered with the nation's longest winning streak at 16 games. However, UCF rallied from 17 points down in the second half for a historic victory.

Head coach Donnie Jones called timeout with 14 minutes left against UConn and implored his team to keep fighting and keep believing. On top of making a major strategic move that swung the momentum of the game - repeatedly switching from man-to-man defense to zone - Jones stressed a tactic the Knights use in practice on a daily basis.

``We work in practice all the time on 4-minute games and we come up with a winner and a loser. I told them in the timeout when we were down 17 with 14 (minutes to play), `Hey, let's win these next four minutes,''' Jones remembered. ``Then, at the 10-minute mark we wanted to win the next four minutes. We just kept chipping away and put ourselves in a spot to get lucky. Our guys really focused on the possessions and did a good job."

Jones reminded his team during Monday's practice that it was once 14-0 and nationally ranked last season before hitting a major lull and dropping several games in a row. The Knights topped Florida, Miami, South Florida and UMass early last season, but failed to capitalize on it with the midseason falterings. Now, Jones wants the team to keep up the hard work and not grow complacent.

``We've lost two games to two teams that are going to be (NCAA) tournament teams and we've played six games against four tournament teams,'' Jones said. ``We have been humbled with some losses and we understand that if you don't come to play that we can get beaten. Last year at this time, we felt like we'd find a way to win and it would never happen to us. I don't know if the guys ever bought into that until they got stung. So now we have to keep it going this season.''

The Knights don't play again until Saturday's home game at 5 p.m. against Hartford, but they have a better shot of keeping it going this season because of vastly superior depth and attacking mindsets from Marcus Jordan and Clanton. Nine players are playing at least 14 minutes a night and four players are close to averaging double figures in scoring.

Leading the way is the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Clanton, who is benefitting from a summer of hard work and conditioning. Clanton trimmed his Body Fat Index down to 8 percent in the offseason, and as a result he's been more athletic and aggressive around the rim. He's averaging 18.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.33 blocks a game. And he added another dimension to his game by stroking 11 of 26 3-pointers (42.3 percent) so far this season.

``Coach has been on me, telling me to come out and play like I'm the best player on the court,'' said Clanton, who was named Conference USA's Player of the Week on Monday. ``I'm trying to stay aggressive. I'm watching a lot of film with our coaches and they are telling me to take every open shot that I get. So I'm just staying aggressive.''

Clanton said the grit that UCF showed against the College of Charleston when things weren't going well was sign that this team is determined to have a special season. And, of course, the rally from 17 points back against UConn proves that UCF has what it takes to not only compete, but beat any team in the nation.

``I just think it shows how our team is and that we don't give up anymore,'' Clanton said. ``Last year, I feel like when we got down sometimes we would have just given up and it would have turned into a 20-point game. Now, we're fighting and playing harder with more intensity. And that's a great sign for us.''

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