Women's Basketball surges past ULM 78-54

ORLANDO – An irregular early-season schedule may have contributed to a bit of rust for the UCF women's basketball team to begin its Tuesday tilt against the University of Louisiana Monroe, but a convincing run to conclude the first half paved way for the Knights' eventual 78-54 win over the Warhawks at Addition Financial Arena.
When the Knights (3-0, 0-0 AAC) took the floor for the game's scheduled 6 p.m. tipoff, they did so for just the third time overall since their Nov. 7 season-opener over two weeks ago, and only the second time at home. A cancelation of the Nov. 10 home game against Mercer due to Hurricane Nicole had the Knights on Tuesday gearing up for just their third game in the first three weeks of the 2022-23 campaign.
"I thought the third quarter, we came out and played our basketball. We started out really slow in the first half," head coach Sytia Messer said. "I thought the third quarter, that we came out very strong. We tried to push the ball better in transition. We told Sierra [Godbolt] she gets to go. I thought that she really was the engine in getting us going in terms of the tempo."
Trailing 25-22 with 4:21 to play in the second quarter, Destiny Thomasignited the Knights' offense with a pair of made tries from the free throw line before Rachel Ranke accounted for UCF's final seven points of the half, including the team's second triple of the night. The Knights on the other end held the Warhawks (2-3, 0-0 Sun Belt) scoreless the rest of the way to bring a 31-25 advantage to the second half.
"We knew we needed to be more aggressive on the boards," Ranke added. "We weren't rebounding very well; we needed to get better position and go up and get the boards. We knew we had to come out hot in the second half and make a statement right away."
UCF dug itself out of an early 5-0 hole on the strength of a 7-2 stretch that was spearheaded by three Mya Burns points. Laila Jewett gave the Knights their first lead of the evening, 10-8, courtesy of her club's first 3-pointer of the game with 3:50 to play in the initial frame, but UCF's issues on the glass allowed Louisiana Monroe hang around and bring a 15-12 lead into the second quarter.
After winning the battle on the glass by an aggregate total of 80-69 through their first two games, the Knights were out-rebounded 20-9 in the first frame alone, allowing for 10 second-chance Warhawks points to UCF's three in the first 10 minutes.
What the Knights lacked in their early abilities to beat Louisiana Monroe on the glass, they made up for in improved offensive efficiency and stifling defense in the second quarter.
UCF allowed just four field goals in the frame before the halftime break and rode a 9-0 run to its six-point halftime lead. Despite trailing in rebounds 31-19, the Knights shot 37 percent from the field through the evening's first 20 minutes against the 26 percent produced by Louisiana Monroe.
Once the Warhawks finally found the scoreboard again with their second triple of the night, they had been held without a point for over seven minutes of gametime and trailed the Knights by 10.
Ranke opened the third frame with her second 3-pointer of the night before Thomas, who scored a team-leading 16 points, added four more. The latter would pace UCF with eight points during a third quarter that saw the Knights outscore Louisiana Monroe 24-13.
Taylor Gibson represented UCF's driving force in putting the game on ice in the final frame, scoring 10 of the Knights' 23 fourth-quarter points to finish with 14 on the night. Ranke joined her two teammates in double-digit scoring with 15 points.
The Knights' halftime adjustments certainly paid dividends. UCF out-rebounded the Warhawks 31-21 through the final three quarters and finished with a season-high 48 percent shooting (29-of-60) from the field, the program's best mark since it shot 53.5 percent (23-of-43) in a 60-35 win over Wichita State on Feb. 16 last season.
"I thought once we got [Bryana Hardy] able to settle down, and to be able to do our three-man rotation with she, Destiny and Taylor, then the rebounding eventually was almost balanced out," Messer continued. "They ended up out-rebounding us 41-40, but the second half, we were a different team on the boards."
The Knights will look to find a rhythm in a more regular portion of their schedule on Saturday afternoon, with a home tipoff against Samford scheduled for 2 p.m. in the UCF Thanksgiving Classic.