Women’s Basketball Finishes Non-Conference Play with Third Straight Win

ORLANDO – With one game to play prior to the arrival of conference play next week, the UCF women's basketball team was looking to continue building on the momentum it created on the heels of its tough three-game skid against Auburn, Seton Hall and Tennessee.
Led by an explosive fourth quarter by junior transfer Anzhané Hutton and 53 team rebounds, the Knights concluded non-conference play with their first 90-point outing since the 2019-20 campaign and third straight win overall in besting the visiting Texas Southern Tigers, 92-57, at Addition Financial Arena Thursday evening.
Hutton, a transfer from Howard playing in her third game this season after nursing a knee injury, scored 17 of her team-leading 22 points in the final 10 minutes of play to lead UCF (10-3, 0-0 AAC) to 28 fourth-quarter points, its highest-scoring period of the night.
"'Naé' is a proven player, and she's just been excited about playing," said head coach Sytia Messer. "So now's finally her opportunity and to get her back has been amazing. She was excited to get a chance to play, so that was what got her going, and we're excited about having her on this team as an offensive and rebounding threat. She's been amazing to coach."
Despite its winless record, Texas Southern (0-11, 0-0 SWAC) hung with the Knights throughout the opening 10 minutes of play. UCF's eventual six-point advantage entering the second quarter was its largest of the frame and the Knights only managed a bit of distance on the scoreboard within the final two minutes.
Destiny Thomas, Rachel Ranke and Mya Burns combined for the Knights' first seven points in response to eight by the Tigers, including Ranke's first triple of the game, followed quickly by a pair of Sierra Godbolt made free throws that gave UCF its first lead of the night, 9-8.
"We knew we had to come out and take care of business tonight," said Ranke. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves after the Christmas Classic, but we knew we had to close out non-conference [play] strong. We had four people score in double digits and it really was just a team effort."
Laila Jewett drained the Knights' second 3-point shot just under a minute later, and six points from Thomas, Jewett and Ranke within the final 2:22 of the quarter gave UCF a 22-16 lead after the first period.
The Knights carried their momentum over following the brief pause, wrapping up their 12-0 run with six more unanswered points from Thomas, Burns and Hutton. The group on the other end had held Texas Southern scoreless for 6:38 of gametime before the Tigers closed their deficit to 28-18 with 7:12 to play in the first half.
Ranke, fresh off her season-high 21-point outburst against Elon Dec. 21, added two more triples as UCF continued to roll through the remainder of the opening 20 minutes. The senior guard scored eight of the Knights' final 19 points and had posted a team-leading 13 at halftime accompanied by three makes from beyond the arc in her 15 minutes of play.
With 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting and three triples, Ranke produced her fifth game with double-digit scoring this season and has drilled eight 3-pointers in her last two games.
The Knights on the other side allowed only three field goals in the final five and a half minutes of the quarter to bring a 47-29 advantage into the locker room and did not let up in the opening six minutes of the second half. UCF began on a 12-5 run, highlighted by Godbolt's first 3-point shot, and outscored the Tigers 17-13 in the frame.
Thomas also recorded her 10th rebound, of her eventual 11, of the game just under halfway through the quarter to clinch her seventh double-double in 11 games this season, a mark that ranks tied for ninth in the nation among all Division I players. Entering Thursday's action, the senior forward's 12.1 rebounds per game ranked fifth-most in the country among Division I players.
"It's huge, it's given us a bit more confidence," Ranke said of finishing non-conference play with three straight wins. "Coming off those games, it was tough for us, but there were lessons to be learned. Now we know how to go forward in conference. We feel like we have a lot to prove and we're going to show that."
Following Hutton's 22 points, Ranke (17), Jewett (15) and Thomas (13) also reached double figures in scoring. With the Knights' ninth win in 12 non-conference games now behind them, UCF will turn its attention toward its scheduled road tilt against SMU to kick off the new year Jan. 3. Tipoff from the Moody Coliseum in Dallas is slated for 8 p.m.