Thomas Records Career-High 24 Points in Win over Shockers

ORLANDO – Locked in a close battle with another challenging conference opponent, the UCF women's basketball team turned to its veterans when it mattered most, and they delivered.
Holding a slim 57-56 lead with 6.6 seconds on the clock, Laila Jewett took her position to guard against a Wichita State inbounds pass along the far baseline on UCF's defensive end. She managed only a fingertip on the ball, but it was enough to send the ball into the waiting arms of Anzhané Hutton.
Jewett released a cathartic scream, not only because her key defensive effort would loom large in helping the Knights (10-6, 1-3 AAC) to their 59-56 victory over the Shockers, but also perhaps because the victory would also snap UCF's three-game losing streak and finally give the Knights their first win in conference play.
Hutton was quickly fouled and converted both tries from the free throw line, sealing the Knights' 3-point victory and delivering their 10th win of the year at Addition Financial Arena on Sunday afternoon.
"This was a must-win game," said senior forward Destiny Thomas. "Just to build confidence going into the rest of conference play, and also to show people that we can win."
Thomas played her part throughout the afternoon, fighting through a brief exit after going down hard on an offensive possession toward the end of the third quarter to finish with a career-high 24 points and her eighth double-double of the season.
"As it always is, just to do my job," Thomas said of her mindset entering the game. "Go out there, finish my layups like I've been doing, and I did it. I did what I set out to do."
Led by Hutton and Thomas, the Knights jumped out to an early 11-6 lead riding the energy of a boisterous student section. The former drew a foul on her first layup try of the afternoon and converted her attempt from the free throw line, followed quickly by a Thomas layup.
After senior Mya Burns finished a layup try at the rim, Thomas and Hutton combined for four more to build the Knights' five-point lead just under the halfway point of the opening quarter. Wichita State (11-7, 1-4 AAC) then mustered a five-point counterpunch to tie the game at 11 with just over three minutes remaining, but five points from Laila Jewett and a converted free throw from Thomas gave the Knights a 17-13 lead following the first 10 minutes of play.
UCF's offense sputtered a bit to begin the second frame, failing to find the scoreboard for almost four minutes, but Taylor Gibson ended the drought with a 2-point jumpshot that tied the game at 19 and ignited an 11-7 run to conclude the first half. Thomas quickly took over on the offensive end, scoring four of UCF's final 11 points to push the Knights to a 28-26 halftime advantage.
"It felt good," said head coach Sytia Messer of recording the team's first conference win. "We had to fight, we had to figure it out. Being at home, getting a couple of days to regroup and get our kids refocused paid off. They got some key defensive stops, key rebounds, and execution there at the end was tremendous."
Thomas took over the affairs following the halftime break, scoring 16 of her 24 points in the second half. She answered four Shockers points with three more of her own and would score UCF's first seven points of the third quarter.
With their team trailing 40-35, Jewett and Burns brought a boisterous student section back into the game with back-to-back triples, marking UCF's first two such shots of the contest. Thomas would add four more points, followed by two more from Burns to send the Knights into the final 10 minutes locked in a 47-47 tie.
Burns drilled her second 3-point shot less than two minutes into the final frame and Thomas again took command, scoring five straight points before the game's crucial final sequence.
The contest represented somewhat of a return to form for the Knights senior dubbed "Old Faithful" by Messer. Thomas notched her second 20-point game of the season after failing to reach double figures in four of her last five games and shot 64 percent (9-of-14) from the field.
Her 13 rebounds marked her highest single-game total since pulling down a career-high 24 against Seton Hall Dec. 24. Her eighth double-double would also place her tied for 23rd in the nation in the category among statistics entering play Sunday.
Burns joined Thomas in double-digit scoring with 10 points and snagged four rebounds of her own, and Hutton notched nine points with eight rebounds.
The Knights have a quick turnaround before their next tilt, a Tuesday evening matchup against a Tulane squad off to an 11-7 start. Tipoff from Addition Financial Arena is slated for 6 p.m.