ORLANDO – Basketball season has arrived as UCF opens its season Tuesday evening in Addition Financial Arena, hosting Duquesne.
The 2021-22 campaign has the ingredients to be another solid one for the Knights. Experience is abundant on the roster. The strength of the schedule will provide early tests for UCF early as the Knights seek a third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
The biggest key for UCF head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson is that nearly every member of its 2021 NCAA Tournament squad returns this season. The Knights finished the 2020-21 campaign with a 16-5 overall record and were the No. 10 seed, the highest in program history, in San Antonio.
The core four of Diamond Battles, Masseny Kaba, Tay Sanders and Brittney Smith started nearly every game for UCF last season. Adding in Alisha Lewis, Ahna Burney, Asia Todd, Kiera Brown and Jnaya Walker, every Knight who started a game last season is back in black and gold for 2021-22. Destiny Thomas is also back after providing valuable minutes off the bench for UCF last spring.
UCF also added experience in a pair of transfers, Neila Luma and Shania Meertens. Luma was a four-year starter at George Washington, averaging 8.3 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per contest for the Colonials. Meertens, a native of Winter Springs, averaged 6.6 points per game as a freshman at Stetson and appeared in 53 games with 12 starts over the last two seasons at Clemson.
An abundance of returners means that the Knights bring back 99.8 percent of their scoring and rebounding this season. Sanders and Battles finished the season as the only two Knights to average double figures, but three Knights – Lewis, Smith and Kaba – each averaged 9.0 points per game or better.
As Coach Abe stated at the team's annual media day, the depth at every position has provided competition every day during preseason practices, which in turn has elevated everyone's level of play.
The Knights will learn a lot about themselves early in the season. Just three days after opening their season, the Knights turn around to welcome No. 12/15 Tennessee to Addition Financial Arena, but the Lady Vols won't be the only ranked opponent the Black and Gold face this season.
UCF's non-conference slate includes six teams ranked or receiving votes in the AP or USA Today/WBCA Top 25 preseason polls. Adding in South Florida and Houston, the Knights have eight opponents on their slate who appear in the preseason poll. Two, No. 12/15 Tennessee and No. 9/11 Iowa, begin the season ranked in the top 15 in the nation.
A variety of opponents, whom the Knights will face at home, on the road and at the Cancun Challenge, will prepare UCF for the American Athletic Conference. The Black and Gold, who have made two appearances in The American Championship title game in the last three seasons, were selected second in the preseason coaches poll.
UCF went 12-2 in league play to finish a half game behind South Florida in the regular season and return all-conference honors in Sanders and Smith, plus Sixth Player and Newcomer of the Year in Lewis, and all-tournament selections in Battles and Kaba.
It all starts with Tuesday's season opener against Duquesne. Fans get in free to the 6 p.m. contest in Addition Financial Arena.
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