Any Given Woman

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ORLANDO, Fla. ( – Defensively, the UCF women's basketball team has been just as solid under second-year coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson as it was during its impressive 2016-17 campaign. The Knights rank in the top 20 nationally in both scoring defense and steals.
Offensively, the Knights have been forced to adapt their game plan due to defensive schemes and injuries, with any given woman stepping up in any given game. But at 5-2 – UCF's best start in the American Athletic Conference – and tied for second in the league standings, it's working.
Following a first team all-conference campaign in 2016-17, opposing teams have keyed in on Aliyah Gregory. Facing double teams night in and night out, the Tampa native's numbers on offense aren't quite at the level they were last season, but that's okay with the senior guard.
"I'm taking more pride in being consistent on defense," Gregory said. "I'm making sure the whole team's taking pride in defense, leading by example and making sure everything starts with me. I set the tone early."
As teams are focusing on Gregory, her teammates in the back court have stepped up offensively.
"Last year I was more of a facilitator," sophomore Korneila Wright said. "This year Coach 'ABE' has given me the ability to attack more and be aggressive, especially in transition. I have the green light to attack and create for my teammates."
Wright and redshirt senior Zakiya Saunders, who has scored in double figures in 12 of her 15 appearances, give the Black and Gold more scoring options and have create challenges for opposing defenses.
In her one season with the Knights, Saunders has already made more three-pointers (11) than in her three-year career at Albany (4).
"Last year my role was more of a coach," the Augusta, Ga., native said.  "My role this year is kind of the same. Be a captain on the floor, be a vocal leader, talk to my teammates, and tell them where to go. When things get crazy I try to calm everybody down, but I'm actually getting to do it on the court."
While the Knights have seen a shift of roles among their guards, the biggest change has come in the front court.
Redshirt junior Nyala Shuler spent the summer practicing as a three-guard. The loss of junior Tolulope Omokore before the season split Shuler's time between guard work and post work. A season-ending injury to senior Fifi Ndour moved her back to the post full-time.
"My role has changed to get a lot more rebounds," Shuler said. "Staying out of foul trouble is also important because I have to play a lot more minutes. I have to be in shape and be consistent."
In addition to Shuler, junior Kayla Thigpen has emerged as a low post presence, and freshman Masseny Kaba, who has started the last 15 games, has made a name for herself in her first collegiate season.
"I just have to step up as a freshman," Kaba said. "I have to help Ny and the rest of my teammates. I've got to be there offensively and defensively for the team."
As a rookie, Kaba has led the Knights in scoring four times and been the leading rebounder five times.
"We lost two important pieces to our offense and defense, because (Tolu and Fifi) accounted for a lot of rebounds and scoring on the low block," Saunders said. "But this gives Mass a great opportunity to show herself off as a freshman."
"She's done a great job," Wright said. "Three-time Freshman of the Week? That's big time."
The Knights will continue their journey with this new look squad when UCF plays at Tulsa Saturday at 3 p.m.