Orlando, FL — The clash of the American Athletic Conference Titans — minus UConn, of course — began with the UCF Knights taking on the Temple Owls at home in CFE Arena, with the Knights dominating the Owls in a 76-46 victory and starting 1-0 in conference play.
A 30-point win was nothing short of exceptional for a UCF team that was ranked just below Temple in the AAC standings coming into the game.
“Our leadership set the tempo, and it just brought everyone else up,” coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. “It means a lot in terms of how we’re going to continue out in January.”
While Temple has star players averaging double-doubles so far this season in Tanaya Atkinson and Mia Davis, the Knights set the defensive tempo early and the Owls were not able to keep up.
By the end of the first half, Temple was down by 16 points (41-25) and only shot 37%.
The going got tough, but the tough did not get going. The Owls made a small dent in their deficit early in the third, cutting it into single digits at one point.
Temple’s run didn’t last for long though, as UCF redshirt senior Zakiya Saunders blew up and pushed her team even further ahead of their opponent. She finished the game with 17 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. By the end of the third and going into the fourth quarter, UCF’s defense had locked down Temple and ran away with the game, now up 22, 57-35.
“The biggest key to this game was that Atkinson was held to 2-5 and she averages around 25 points a game and 12 rebounds normally and is a great player,” coach Abrahamson-Henderson said. “We did a great job on her, knowing where she was and the game plan was good.”
In fact, Atkinson was held to just six points and her last shot was taken in the third quarter. Other than their two stars, the Owls struggled to establish an offensive identity and there was clear miscommunication on setting up plays during the game, which lead to a total of 23 Owl turnovers.
“We keyed in on our defense and playing hard as a team,” Saunders said.
Not only were the Knights able to handle their business on defense, but also on offense, having four total players in double figures. Through the senior leadership of Aliyah Gregory and Saunders, UCF was able to push some of its youngest players to shine, including freshman Masseny Kaba.
Kaba was one of the four Knights in double-digits as she contributed 13 points, two offensive rebounds, and two assists.
The game essentially came down to a battle of energy — one that Temple just couldn’t compete with. With 14 offensive rebounds and 28 points off turnovers, the Knights took control of the game and never looked back.
“I thought we had great energy today starting this morning in shoot around to warm-ups during the game. Everyone came ready and focused,” Saunders said.
This win was a huge checkmark the Knights were hoping to achieve going into the new year.
Starting January 1-0 in conference play is a stark contrast to where they were this time last year, with a 0-2 start in the AAC.
“It’s a good win, you know, it kinda boosts our confidence and shows us what we’re capable of,” senior guard Aliyah Gregory said.
The UCF Knights showed that they are going to be a force to reckon with this season, with capable veterans and rising freshman stars, while Temple will need to realign their strategies all-around.
American Athletic Conference play continues after the new year for both teams, as they are set to face the SMU Mustangs next. UCF will face them first on Jan. 3 and Temple hopes to bounce back in conference play against the Mustangs on Jan. 7.
JUST #WOW!!!!!Posted by Swish Appeal on Saturday, December 30, 2017