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UCF Stumbles At South Florida

Cedric Donaldson

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UCF approached Saturday’s showdown with South Florida in need of a win. A tough loss at Tulane had dropped the Knights to 4-2 in conference play earlier in the week. And with a rematch against mighty Houston looming, Johnny Dawkins’s squad needed to muster a road win over the weekend against a floundering South Florida team. 

Unfortunately, the Bulls had other plans.  

From the opening tip-off, it just didn’t feel like the Knights’ day. While neither team exactly came out firing, it took UCF almost three minutes to score –– finally getting on the board with (what else?) a Taylor Hendricks three-pointer. From there, it was another two-and-a-half minutes before the Knights scored again, and four minutes before they notched another field goal. Fortunately for UCF, South Florida was almost as cold to start the game. But by the end of an opening stretch in which the Knights had an opportunity to develop a cushion, they wound up down 6-8 at the 12:59 mark. 

From that point forward, the pace quickened and the scoring heated up on both sides. While UCF’s leading scorers, Hendricks and CJ Kelly, both produced in this stretch, however, it was Bulls guard Tyler Harris who stole the show. Not for nothing, the undersized transfer from Memphis is putting together an outstanding season; he leads South Florida in scoring, and even notched 31 points against the fearsome Houston backcourt back on January 11th. Undoubtedly, Coach Dawkins and Co. schemed to contain Harris, but –– seemingly inevitably –– he caught fire starting right before the 12-minute TV timeout. Harris hit three consecutive three-pointers in less than three minutes’ time, ultimately helping South Florida to a 38-33 halftime lead (which frankly could have been larger). 

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One wonders if UCF would have taken this halftime scenario if offered. They’d scored only six points in the game’s first seven minutes, Tyler Harris had gone off, and the deficit, on the road, was still only five points. The Knights have been a good enough team of late to be able to overcome that margin with a steadier second half. 

In this case though, the pressure of a road deficit (and hostile environment) got the better of the Knights. There was nothing particularly unusual about the second half, nor did South Florida do anything spectacular. Rather, the Bulls just maintained level heads, moved the ball efficiently, and found themselves getting to both the basket and the free-throw line throughout the half. Harris sustained his hot hand, hitting a few more jumpers (including two from long range) and enjoying a perfect, 13-for-13 day at the line. But it was the Bulls’ unselfish play (18 assists on the day) and a barrage of layups that helped them to widen the gap. 

In the end, despite an 18-point effort from CJ Kelly and a strong second half from Ithiel Horton, the Knights simply couldn’t keep up. They lost by a final score of 85-72, dropping to 4-3 in conference play ahead of their rematch with Houston. 

For UCF fans in search of a positive to take from this game, it’s worth noting that South Florida was, in some respects, due. Despite its lowly conference record, the team has been nipping at the heels of superior opponents. The Bulls lost to Memphis by seven, Temple and Wichita State by four each, and even came within six points of Houston. This is to say, the Bulls are not necessarily as poor as their record might suggest. 

Nevertheless, there were some problematic signs for UCF in this game. For one thing, the Knights were badly outrebounded, courtesy (for the most part) of South Florida 7-footer Russel Tchewa. More significantly however, the Knights had trouble containing the perimeter and guarding cuts, ultimately leading to the aforementioned second-half layup barrage. This is a problem that needs to be solved quickly if UCF is to fare better when Houston’s Marcus Sasser, Jamal Shead, and Tramon Mark come to town this week. 

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It’s a tough stretch in the schedule, but at this point the Knights need to look at the Houston rematch as an opportunity to right the ship. As the Cougars’ recent loss to Temple shows us, anything can happen in conference play –– and UCF is a better team than it showed at South Florida over the weekend. 

 

UCF Knights

UCF Knights Secure Centerpiece Big Man for 2024-25 Season

UCF’s men’s basketball team has just secured the service of a big-time talent after blue chip big man Moustapha Thiam decided to reclassify for 2024-25 season.

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Moustapha Thiam

UCF’s men’s basketball team has just secured the service of a big-time talent after blue chip big man Moustapha Thiam decided to reclassify, making him eligible to play for the Knights this coming college basketball season.

Thiam, the No.1 center in ESPN’s class of 2025, will anchor the Knights’ defense in their second season in the Big 12.

The 7-foot-2 Senegalese impressed scouts with his terrific play at the Adidas 3SSB circuit, serving as the focal point of Austin Rivers SE Elite in the tournament. In 28 minutes per game, he averaged 5.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 blocks and 1.0 steals.

 

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With Thiam joining a roster of seniors and promising young players, Johnny Dawkins’ UCF Knights is expected to outperform their surprising 7-11 record in their Big 12 debut last season.

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UCF has retained the service of Jaylin Sellers and Darius Johnson, the two top-scorers from last season, and secured commitments from a slew of transferees such as JJ Taylor and Mikey Williams from Memphis, Keyshawn Hall from George Mason, and Deebo Coleman from Georgia Tech.

The program has successfully recruited Cameron Simpson, a local standout from Oak Ridge in Orlando, Florida.

Scouting Report Provides Things to Expect from Moustapha Thiam

Moustapha Thiam is an enticing prospect because of his large 7-foot-2 size, impressive length, and quick-twitch movement.

As a true center, he can open his hips, glide laterally, and recover from switches.

While he has to gain muscle, especially considering his slight foundation and narrow shoulders, he is an excellent rim protector who can influence ball movement and play from the weak side.

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Thiam possesses a nice touch for pick-and-pop jumpers with his feet set and good hands for passes at chest level or higher.

As he continues to develop in each game, he will improve his decision-making skills. His size and physical tools set him apart from his contemporaries.

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Building Relationships with the Community: Gus Malzahn Winning Strategy

Tramayne Wright

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Coach Lo discusses how Gus Malzahn identifies the key figures within the local community in Central Florida.

 

Gus Malzahn had a vision. He saw the potential in the local sports scene and knew he had to seize the opportunity. Coach Lo Wood vividly remembers the strategic move that set Malzahn apart: reaching out to key figures in the community.

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“The first thing I recognized about Gus was how he instantly reached out to the guys in the community,” Coach Wood shared. “He called me up and said, ‘I want to be in a relationship with you.’ And it wasn’t just talk. Gus meant it. He wanted to build something real.”

Mazzone’s approach wasn’t just about forming superficial connections. He sought out genuine relationships with influential community members. Soon, other notable figures like AG Waseem and Ellis Danley were echoing the same sentiment. “Next thing you know, there’s AG Waseem saying the same thing, ‘I want to be in a relationship with you.’ Then he calls Ellis Danley with the same message. It was clear that Gus was building a network of trust and cooperation,” Coach Wood explained.

These were not random choices. The individuals Malzahn reached out to were deeply embedded in the community, and respected for their roles and commitment to the local youth. “Who are all these guys he’s been in a relationship with?” Coach Wood asked. “They’re the guys from the community, the ones who have the kids with them every day. They’re the mentors, the coaches, the father figures.”

Malzahn vision was to ensure that talented athletes didn’t feel the need to leave their hometown to find success. “I knew right then that a lot of athletes were going to stay home and be hometown heroes,” Coach Wood stated. “That’s the way to do it.”

He elaborated on the significance of this approach. “When you have someone like Gus, who invests in the community and builds these relationships, it creates a support system for the kids. They see that they can achieve their dreams right here, with the people who have always been there for them. It’s about pride, it’s about belonging, and it’s about giving back.”

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Coach Wood believes this method will have a lasting impact. “What Gus is doing isn’t just about winning games. It’s about building character, fostering community spirit, and creating a legacy. These kids are not just athletes; they’re future leaders, and Gus is showing them that they can lead from their own backyard.”

Malzahn efforts are not just about creating successful athletes; they are about nurturing future leaders who can lead from their own community. By building a strong foundation within the local sports scene, Gus Malzahn is making a lasting impact that will benefit the community for generations to come.

 

 

Coach Lo talks about The Importance of Building a Strong Community for the UCF Knights

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UCF Football Set for Black Friday Showdown with Utah Utes on Nov. 29

UCF Football announced the date of their Black Friday football game against the Utah Utes.

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UU vs. UCF

UCF Football announced the date of their Black Friday football game against the Utah Utes.

Fox Sports will broadcast the Knights’ final regular-season match on their 2024 college football schedule on November 29 from the FBC Mortgage Stadium in Orlando, Florida.

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The Knights had a solid run during their maiden season in their new league, finishing with 3-6 Big 12 record and 6-7 overall.

UCF won their first three games against Kent State, Boise State, and Villanova before pulling off a signature upset win over the No.15 ranked Oklahoma State, 45-3, last November 11.

Expectations are high for the Knights this coming season after securing the service of two-time Bowl Games MVP KJ Jefferson. The quarterback spent his first five years in Arkansas, setting most of the passing records for the Razorbacks.

UCF also bolstered other areas of their offense following the transfer of elite running back Peny Boone from Maryland and wide receiver Agiye Hall from Texas.

The Knights’ Black Friday game opponent, Utah, will debut in the Big 12 this season after capping their Pac 12 run with an 8-5 season (5-4 conference).

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UCF Football will kick off their second season in the Big 12 on August 29 against New Hampshire at home field.

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