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Women's Basketball Surges Past Bethune-Cookman, 101-63

by Ryan Ladika

ORLANDO – Throughout Sytia Messer’s preseason press conference, the second-year Knights head coach stressed the importance of her club displaying an element of grit on the defensive end of the floor.

The UCF women’s basketball team did enjoy defensive success throughout the team’s Monday season-opener, limiting the visiting Bethune-Cookman Wildcats to 16 or fewer points in three of the four quarters, but Messer’s offense stole the show in the squad’s emphatic 101-63 season-opening win at Addition Financial Arena, headlined by Kaitlin Peterson’s 31-point display in her Knights debut.

UCF (1-0) built its winning effort on the strength of a second-half offensive barrage and a stingy defensive effort in locking down its second consecutive Opening Night win under Messer, as well as its fifth consecutive season-opening victory, all of which have come on its home floor.

“I was impressed with the collective effort of the team,” Messer said. “We had four people with double figures, and Achol [Akot], our freshman, had 14 rebounds, and eight of those were offensive. With [Peterson], we just kept telling her, ‘it’s going to come.’ She stepped up and hit some big shots for us.”

With 13 3-point field goals, the comfortable victory also featured the second time in as many seasons that saw UCF drill at least 10 triples in its season-opening win. The team drained 11 3-point shots in its 2022-23 season-opening win over Winthrop, representing its lone contest with double-digit threes.

The Knights also scored at least 90 points in a season-opener for the first time since the 2014-15 campaign, when they toppled Florida Atlantic 94-74 Nov. 14, and UCF topped 100 points in a single game for the first time since January 26, 1998, in its 102-70 victory at Troy.

“I’m proud, as I’ve always said with scoring it’s going to be all hands on deck for us,” Messer said. “To have four players in double figures was tremendous for us. Everybody contributed. We’re super excited and proud of this team.”

The Knights began their convincing season-opening victory with a first half that saw the team yield 14 or fewer points in both of the first two quarters en route to an 11-point halftime advantage.

After the squad fell into an early 8-4 deficit with just over six minutes to play in the opening 10 minutes, returning junior forward Taylor Gibson ignited an 18-5 run to conclude the first half with her first field goal of the night.

Fellow returning guard Laila Jewett, one of four Knights to average over eight points per game a season ago, then tied the game at eight points and later drilled UCF’s first 3-point shot of the night to put her team ahead 13-8.

While aiding in holding the Wildcats (0-1) to just two field goals throughout the remainder of the first quarter, Jewett, center Jayla Kelly and guard Timia Ware combined for nine more points, including the Knights’ second triple of the contest courtesy of Ware to push UCF out to a 22-13 lead entering the second quarter.

The Knights’ defense allowed only six field goals in the following 10 minutes and outscored Bethune-Cookman 16-14 in the frame, led by four more points from Kelly.

The senior transfer from Missouri has recorded field goal percentages north of 41 percent in each of her first three collegiate seasons, and in her first game donning the Black and Gold surpassed her 2022-23 season-high of 3.2 points per game with 14, good for a share of second-most on the night with Jewett.

After scoring just five points through the contest’s first 20 minutes, Peterson caught fire down the stretch scoring 26 of her 31 points in the final two quarters on 10-of-13 shooting, including five converted three-point tries in six attempts from beyond the arc.

“I’m happy we played well as a team and got the win. Just feeding off my teammates, they came in with energy, passed off to me and I was able to have a good game,” Peterson said.

Peterson, who was with the team a year ago but unable to play after transferring during the season from Indiana, made three consecutive 3-point field goals straddling the break between the final two periods in recording her second career game in double digits, and her first since Feb. 9, 2022 at Illinois. She also notched the first 30-plus point game by a Knight since Laila Jewett scored 34 in UCF’s 79-74 win over Samford Nov. 26, 2022.

Behind Peterson, the Knights outscored the Wildcats 63-36 in the second half and 37-16 in the fourth quarter. Kelly also produced a strong display on both ends of the floor, recording a near-double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds, and Jewett added 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc.

UCF will look to win its second straight to begin the season against Anderson Nov. 13. Tipoff from Addition Financial Arena is slated for 6 p.m.


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