John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF's Focus is Us

Feb. 21, 2012

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - In the minutes prior to UCF's clutch home win against East Carolina on Saturday, head coach Donnie Jones walked into the locker room and scribbled one word - "Us" - on the dry erase board for all to see.

Jones' accompanying message was rather simple and to the point. It shouldn't matter what any other team does, Jones said, as long as the Knights play like they are capable they should be successful.

With four games remaining in the regular season, starting with Wednesday's road game against Rice, UCF is hoping that its singular focus and attention on doing what they do well will lead to a strong closing kick.

"It really is just about us and we control where `us' goes," Jones said. "If you want to make a move you let everybody else worry about themselves and we'll just worry about what we can control and that's about us. We're in a situation with how the year has played out to make some moves and we have to start passing some people to the top. To do that, we have a chance to do it in the next four games."

Just a game off the lead in Conference USA, UCF (19-7 overall and 8-4 in C-USA) is hoping to use the final two weeks of the regular season to climb up the standings and impress the selection committee for the NCAA Tournament. The Knights are just a game behind Southern Miss (9-3) and Memphis (9-3) and a half-game back of Tulsa (9-4). UCF hosts UTEP on Saturday and then closes the regular season at Memphis and at home against UAB.

The Knights also need to keep winning to remain in the top four to secure a first-round bye for the C-USA Tournament, which will be held March 7-10 in Memphis. UCF is a game ahead of fifth-place Marshall (7-5).

UCF defeated East Carolina 64-55 on Saturday night for its fourth win in the past five games. The Knights did so in a workmanlike effort, sharing the ball and spreading the points around the roster. Leading scorer Marcus Jordan had just 10 points and two field goals, and that Jones said displayed some of the growth that the Knights have made as a team.

"How many times have we been able to win before with Marcus taking just three shots? But he was really sharing the ball and doing a good job of making the extra pass," Jones said. "The reason that we've won is because we've played together as a team. We don't have to have one guy score a bunch of points for us anymore. We can win as a group. Whatever it has to be, we're getting a good team effort every night which is good for your team to win."

UCF senior point guard A.J. Rompza has been highly complementary of UCF's chemistry, saying this is the tightest team he has played on in four seasons. Whether it's late-night shooting practice, mid-week meals or movie watching on the road before away games, the Knights usually do it together, Rompza said. That togetherness is a big reason why UCF has made a commitment to sharing the ball and the spotlight this season. Four different players - Keith Clanton, Isaiah Sykes, Jordan and Rompza - have led the Knights in scoring this season.

"This is the closest team and the best chemistry we've had as a team since in my four years here," said Rompza, who had 11 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals in last Saturday's victory. "Guys hang out with one another and get along with one another and they don't care who scores. That's why we're being successful."

Jones' "Us" message also refers to UCF finding ways to win when adversity hits and it is in hostile environments on the road. The coach has been delighted with UCF's physical and mental growth from last season, factors that have allowed the Knights to thrive throughout the year.

"This team has found a way to play fast, play slow, play physical or whatever we need to do on that night," Jones said. "We couldn't win these kind of games last year, but we're winning them now."

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