Brand New Ball Game

Live Stats Championship Central Watch Mission In Sight Ep. 4 Game Notes Watch on ESPN3 Praise for a Pair YouTube

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (UCFKnights.com) – When the UCF women's basketball team was projected to finish eighth in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll in October, it seemed almost a given to everyone else rather than a guess.

After all, the Knights finished near the bottom of the league standings each year since joining the conference in 2013-14. In each of the previous three seasons, they tipped off on opening day of the conference tournament, and packed their bags immediately after the buzzer sounded.

Fast forward to March 2017, and it's a whole new ball game.

"During the summer, I could tell that we were both mentally and physically tougher, but during the month of February was when it was the most evident," redshirt sophomore Nyala Shuler said. "We showed grit and toughness and I think that's what proved that we were a different team."

The Knights ended the year with a 9-7 record to finish fourth in the league standings and obtain a first-round bye – a goal they had set in years before first-year head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson's arrival.

UCF won nine games in The American this year, the most since joining the league in 2013-14. The Knights won six of their last seven games to close out the regular season with a 19-10 record, the most victories since the 2010-11 campaign. One of those wins was their first over a nationally ranked opponent – their rival, the Bulls.

Mentally tough. Aggressive. Dynamic. Resilient.

All of these words were used by the Knights to describe the team this season.

"We set goals in the beginning of the season," Shuler said. "It's refreshing to see a lot of those goals being reached, but at the same time we just keep moving our bar higher and higher so that we can reach our full potential."

Returning nearly all of its members from last season, the team faced its first hurdle with the announcement of a coaching change. Adjusting to a defensive-minded coaching staff, the Knights buckled down and have allowed the fewest points per game in program history.

Reaching milestone after milestone under Abrahamson-Henderson's guidance, the Knights have more on their mind. The first step is to win on Saturday.

As the fourth seed, the Knights will take the court to face No. 5 Tulane in the 2017 Frontier Communications American Athletic Conference Championship at noon on ESPN3. For the first time since joining The American, UCF will have a first round bye.

The Knights faced the Green Wave just once in the regular season, coming away with a 56-51 victory in New Orleans on Feb. 22.

All-conference selections Aliyah Gregory and Zykira Lewis look to lead their team to a place its never been before: The American semifinals. If they succeed, it will mark the first time since 2013 that UCF clinched an appearance in a conference semifinal matchup.

The winner between UCF and Tulane will advance to Sunday's semifinal game at 5 p.m. on ESPN2.