John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Has Tournament Experience

March 7, 2012

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By John Denton

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UCFAthletics.com) - Dating back to last year, when Donnie Jones was helping to set up the schedule for UCF men's basketball team, he was looking ahead to March and this week's Conference USA Tournament.

Jones knew that if the Knights could get a top-four seed and a first-round bye, they would have to win three games in three days to capture the league championship.

So when the Knights traveled to Canada last summer for an exhibition tour, they accordingly played three games in three days. And when they played an early-season tournament in the Bahamas, they also went through a stretch of three games in three days.

UCF handled both scenarios well, going 3-0 in Canada and 2-1 in the Bahamas with a defeat of defending national champion UConn. Now, the Knights will be looking to pull off a similar feat in Memphis at C-USA Tournament.

``We've been there playing this kind of schedule,'' Jones said. ``We played really well in Canada and we played well in the Bahamas, but hopefully our guys know the importance of a quick scouting report, the importance of a (gameday) shootaround and the value of adjustments. You don't have much prep time and you're hoping through those experiences your guys are focused in on each opponent.''

By tying for third in the league and earning the No. 4 seed, UCF (21-9 overall and 10-6 in C-USA play) doesn't play until Thursday at 10 p.m. ET against the winner of the UAB-Tulane game on Wednesday. The Knights secured the first-round bye by beating UAB 71-63 last Saturday night in a game where they made a season-high 11 3-pointers.

``It's huge getting that bye. That's obviously what we were shooting for,'' UCF senior point guard A.J. Rompza said. ``There were a couple of slight problems that we had during the conference season, but you can't dwell on it. You have to work past that, and we did to get this fourth place to get a bye. We have to win three games instead of four and that's a huge boost.''

UCF junior forward Keith Clanton paved the way for the regular-season closing defeat of UAB, scoring 22 points and hitting three 3-pointers. Clanton was honored this week by being named first team All-C-USA and to the C-USA All-Defensive team. He was just the second Knight to earn the first-team All-C-USA honors after averaging 15 points and 8.4 rebounds.

Clanton knows that if UAB wins on Wednesday and the Knights are matched up against the Blazers for a third time they will have their work cut out. UCF has already beaten UAB twice and doing it a third time would be difficult.

``We're confident every game that we play, but if we have to play them again we're sure they will play with an extra edge to try and beat us because they have lost to us twice already,'' Clanton said. "We'll have to play hard and aggressive to win.''

Jones said the extra day of rest should help his team prepare itself for tournament play. Jones said in the large scheme of things, this is the part of the season that matters more than any other. He wants his team believing that it can string together three straight wins and roll to the NCAA Tournament.

``This is the second part of the journey. We had the nonconference season, the conference season and now the conference tournament,'' Jones said, referring to the NCAAs being the final destination. ``Now the real fun begins. This is March Madness and what guys play for all year long. We used to say they are all practice games until tournament time. This has been a great ride for our team and we just want to keep it going.''

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