Women's Basketball Wins Fifth Straight, Beats Redhawks 67-41

ORLANDO – Not even 24 hours removed from their down-to-the-wire double-overtime win to wrap up Day One of the Thanksgiving Classic at Addition Financial Arena Saturday, the UCF women's basketball team was looking to clamp down on the defensive end of the floor against Southeast Missouri State on Sunday afternoon.
UCF (5-0, 0-0 AAC) accomplished just that and then some, holding the Redhawks (2-4, 0-0 OVC) to single-digit points in the first and fourth quarters en route to locking up their strong 67-41 win, marking their fifth straight victory to begin the new season.
"I think we did pretty well defensively," said senior Destiny Thomas, who recorded her second straight game with a double-double and her third this season. "Of course there are things we can improve on, on the help-side, but in terms of getting steals and being active on the ball, I think we did pretty well."
The Knights' 11 steals marked the third time in their first five games this season in which they recorded double-digit takeaways, and their 53 rebounds marked a season-high. Their 26-point margin of victory also represented UCF's second-largest of the young campaign.
"I think our rebounding was key too, we kept them off the glass and tried to [force them] into only having one shot," sophomore Taylor Gibson added.
The Knights began the afternoon strong, recording the game's first five points courtesy of a trio of made free throw attempts and a Thomas layup within the first minute of play. After allowing Southeast Missouri State to take its first lead with seven straight points, UCF clamped down on the defensive end.
Following a Redhawks field goal that put the Knights in a 7-5 deficit with 6:59 in the first quarter, the Knights allowed just a single free throw the remainder of the period. Sierra Godbolt scored five points on a 10-1 Knights run, that also saw Laila Jewett knock down UCF's first triple, to conclude the quarter with UCF holding a 15-8 advantage.
"I'm just proud of the team's effort tonight," head coach Sytia Messer said. "I thought we started out a little flat, but I thought our effort in the third quarter was much better, so I was proud of that. We had Destiny and Taylor with 10 [rebounds] and Laila yesterday carried us on her back and had a solid game today."
UCF continued its scoring run into the second quarter, and by the time Southeast Missouri State finally found the scoreboard again on a free throw with 5:08 to go in the first half, it had been held to just one point for almost 10 minutes of gametime.
Jewett drilled her second 3-point field goal, followed closely by triples from Mya Burns and Tiani Abrams that highlighted a 13-1 stretch that opened the second frame for UCF and gave the Knights a 28-9 lead with 4:55 to play in the half.
The Redhawks managed to cut into their deficit a bit in the seconds before halftime. The second Southeast Missouri State 3-pointer of the game, coupled with three made tries from the free throw line after a foul by Burns on a 3-point attempt, shaved UCF's lead to 32-21 in the final 65 seconds of the first half.
Gibson, who finished with a team-leading 17 points, helped preserve the Knights' lead through a third quarter that saw the Redhawks find their offensive footing. Southeast Missouri State scored a game-high 16 points in the period, but Gibson sent UCF to the final 10 minutes of play with 10 of the Knights' 19 points in the frame, including UCF's sixth 3-point shot of the day.
"I think a lot of it had to do with our bench, the people who came in and subbed were ready, so that helped us out in pulling away," Messer continued. "And second, limiting the turnovers and working on the high-low game was good for us. When our posts get low and wide, we're pretty hard to defend."
UCF cruised through the final frame, yielding just two Redhawks field goals and four total points in the period to remain unbeaten through five games. Thomas scored 12 points to accompany her 10 rebounds, and Gibson posted her first double-double this season with 10 rebounds. Burns and Jewett joined their teammates in double-digit scoring with 13 and 10 points, respectively.
The Knights will conclude their four-game homestand on Thursday evening with a 6 p.m. tipoff against Sam Houston.