Men's Hoops Hosts No. 18 Baylor Wednesday

by Ken Landis
UCF Game Notes Baylor Game Notes Big 12 Conference Notes

ORLANDO – One of the most exciting parts of the Big 12 Conference’s schedule matrix announcement back in July was that the UCF men’s basketball team would welcome two of the three most recent national champions to The City Beautiful. No. 3 Kansas was the first of the pair to visit Orlando, and the Black and Gold gave Knight Nation an evening they’ll never forget, earning a 65-60 victory over the Jayhawks, the highest ranked team UCF had beat in program history.

Now, the second of the two recent national champions lie directly in UCF’s path as No. 18 Baylor pays a visit to The Sunshine State for a 7 p.m. tip on Wednesday. The Bears hoisted the 2021 national championship trophy, followed by Kansas in 2022.

This year’s Baylor squad comes into the contest with the challenge of erasing three straight losses after starting 3-0 in conference play. All three defeats were by four points or less, with two of them coming in overtime. The losing skid started with a 68-64 loss at Kansas State before traveling to Texas and falling 75-73. Most recently, the Bears lost 105-102 in triple overtime to TCU in Waco. The three straight Baylor losses by four points or less hadn’t happened to them since 1975.

The Knights are seeking some history of their own on Wednesday. A win against the ranked Bears would bring UCF to two wins on the year against foes in the top 25, which would be just the second time in program history to do so in a single season. A win against No. 18 Baylor on Wednesday coupled with a victory over No. 23 Oklahoma on Saturday means the Black and Gold would rewrite their record book, earning a program record number of wins over ranked opponents in a single season. The Knights have plenty of opportunities even after this week, as Wednesday’s contest is the first of four straight against ranked opponents and the start of eight top-25 teams in the final 11 games of the regular season.

Even more history lies ahead for members of the Black and Gold as a trio of Knights are approaching personal milestones. Head coach Johnny Dawkins goes for his 300th career victory, which would make him the sixth active head coach in the Big 12 Conference to reach the mark. Jaylin Sellers needs just 46 points to reach the 1,000-career points mark; the junior tallied 627 points across two seasons at Ball State and has already tallied 327 points in 19 games with the Black and Gold. Meanwhile, Darius Johnson is eight assists away from climbing into a tie of 10th place on UCF’s all-time assists leaderboard, sitting at 260 in his career.

The Knights have gotten out to better starts in their last two Big 12 games. They have led by 12 or more points at halftime in each of the last two tilts after trailing at the break in the first five.

UCF jumped out to a dozen-point advantage at halftime its last game at Cincinnati, but foul trouble, a pair of injuries and 20% shooting from the field hampered the Knights down the stretch against their former American Athletic Conference rival. The game continued the trend of UCF trading wins and losses in Big 12 play. Sellers, along with Marchelus Avery, were brilliant in the ballgame, each scoring 19 points to lead the Knights.

Wednesday’s matchup could shake out to be a classic offense vs. defense battle as Baylor enters with the 12th ranked scoring offense in the country while UCF boasts the No. 28 scoring defense in the nation. The Bears have shot 49.4% from the field this season, also a No. 12 mark nationally, while the Knights hold foes to 40% shooting on average, a top 35 mark in the country. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) has UCF’s defense ranked fourth in the nation while pinning Baylor as having the fourth ranked offense.