UCF Women’s Hoop Squad Makes History

ORLANDO—The Knights made history Saturday afternoon at Addition Financial Arena.
The UCF women's basketball team clinched its first American Athletic Conference regular-season title.
Knight players basked in the glow of black and gold confetti that flew in celebratory fashion once the convincing 74-39 win (UCF's ninth in a row) over Cincinnati had ended.
They hoisted a trophy and sang the alma mater.
They sported black-and-gold conference championship T-shirts.
They danced and took a team picture amidst the piles of confetti.
They confetti-bombed their head coach while she did a postgame television interview.
They cut down the nets to record the achievement (including lots of former players who returned for a Varsity Knights reunion weekend).
And then they danced again.
University president Alex Cartwright showed up for the coronation and went home with his own piece of net.
The 25th-rated Knights proved their first ranking in history this week in the USA Today poll of coaches is no fluke.
"This is a great milestone for them. You work so hard to get to this point. They've experienced a lot. They built this," said UCF coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson of her team's achievement.
They hope there's lots more to come.
UCF hadn't won a league postseason tournament since its 2011 Conference USA title. It won that same event in 2009 and claimed Atlantic Sun Tournament crowns in 1996 and 1999. It hadn't won a regular-season league title since 2005 (ASUN).
There are two banners in the rafters of Addition Arena signifying those C-USA tourney titles—and now there's at least one more on order.
Next up is the AAC Tournament, an event the Knights have never won (mostly because until last season the perennial champion was powerful Connecticut).
"When UConn was in the league, you couldn't win it," said Abrahamson-Henderson.
Saturday afternoon began with public-address announcer Jeff Sharon declaring to the fans, "We've got a trophy on the line this afternoon."
Then the Knights went about winning it.
This one didn't take long for a decision. Cincinnati led 4-3—then UCF went on a 31-2 run, scoring the final 18 points of the first period for a 33-6 lead after the first 10 minutes. By that time the stifling Knight defense had forced 10 turnovers and allowed three field goals. When the Bearcats finally reached double figures in points they were five for 20 from the field and trailed by 31.
Pardon the UCF players and coaches if their celebration Saturday appeared maybe a tiny bit muted. They hope this is simply the latest step in their 2021-22 journey.
"We're going to keep doing the same things we always do," said Knight senior Brittney Smith, who led her team with 16 points (Destiny Thomas also had 16) and grabbed seven rebounds.
"We always play for each other and we always play hard. We have the same end goal in mind. Our season isn't over, and we're extremely focused on what's coming up."
UCF (21-3 overall, 13-1 AAC) finishes its regular season on Senior Knight Wednesday with a home game versus Tulsa. Then it's on to Fort Worth the following week for the AAC Tournament where the Knights will be the favorite as the number-one seed. They hope they'll be leaving town with another trophy after the March 10 championship game.
Then, presumably, UCF will find its name in the NCAA Championship bracket to be announced March 13. The Knights have never won an NCAA game in a half-dozen previous attempts (1996, 1999, 2009, 2011, 2019 and 2021). They believe they have a chance for their best NCAA seed in history. UCF's number-10 seed in 2021 is the current high mark.
This marks the 12th time the Knights have hit the 20-win mark—including Abrahamson-Henderson's first four seasons in Orlando. A win over Tulsa and three more in Fort Worth would leave UCF with 25—one shy of the all-time Knight record (26-7 in 2018-19).
The Knights do it with defense—with the top scoring defense in the country, allowing just 48.1 per game.
"That's one thing people don't realize--because we press a lot we're in really good shape," said Abrahamson-Henderson.
Prior to Saturday three consecutive UCF opponents had scored 35 or fewer against the Knights. By nightfall UCF was again the best in the nation in that category—Albany headed into Saturday leading the way at 48.4.
Added Smith, "Defense is obviously our identity--as long as we play hard and get stops."
The Knights don't plan to get ahead of themselves. After all, it's not March yet.
"We just have to stay the course," said Abrahamson-Henderson. "We just focus on one game at a time."