Knights defeat UAB Blazers for first time, caps big week
Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012
Updated: Sunday, January 22, 2012 17:01
Resiliency has been a recurring theme for the UCF Knights (15-4, 5-1) this season, and it was once again Saturday afternoon as they defeated Conference USA foe UAB (6-12, 1-4) for the first time in school history, 48-41.
It was the second time in four days that UCF had notched a victory over a C-USA program for the first time. The Knights had previously been 0-7 all time vs. the Blazers, and UCF was 0-10 vs. Memphis (13-6, 4-1) before Wednesday's historic 68-67 win over the Tigers.
In a low-scoring road contest, the Knights curtailed the Blazers' shooting to 28 percent on the game.
"It just shows the toughness of our team and how we've made strides to be able to find ways [to win]," coach Donnie Jones said after the contest in his radio interview on the UCF IMG Sports Network. "We've put in two to three stops in a row now [defensively] in the last minutes [of the game]."
Junior forward Keith Clanton, the hero from the Memphis game, also had another clutch play in the final minutes Saturday as he banked in a 9-foot jump shot. He led the Knights with 10 points and blocked three shots.
Clanton also swatted an important shot to give UCF an extra possession around the one-minute mark of the game, where the Knights led by three points.
More notably, however, Clanton has climbed up the ranks in UCF history and is now the No. 1 shot-blocker of all time.
Junior guard Marcus Jordan had a quiet offensive game, scoring nine points, but hustled for a team-high eight rebounds instead.
In terms of efficiency, sophomore guard Isaiah Sykes shot 57 percent from the field. He scored eight points but was plagued by foul trouble, limiting his minutes to 24.
The Knights started the game by going on an impressive 12-0 run, showing no hangover from Wednesday's emotional win.
"I thought we were very poised," Jones said. "I thought we worked the ball, we got good shots, and I thought we did a good job defensively."
UCF led by as many as 14 points and ended the first half leading 24-15.
"I feel like we still had control of the game," Clanton said. "We let up a little and we know we have to fight up for next time."
UAB found some momentum and claimed its first lead in the game at the 6:14 mark of the second half as sophomore swingman Jordan Swing sunk two free throws.
That prompted Jones to immediately call for a timeout for the Knights to regroup.
"We didn't give up," Clanton said. "We had to make a defensive stop, and every time we try to take it one possession at a time, then we came up and made [that stop]."
From there onward, sophomore forward Tristan Spurlock stole one of UAB's possessions and buried a 3-pointer around the four-minute mark to push UCF's lead back to one. It opened up a 9-0 run for the Knights, which helped them clinch the victory.
Spurlock grabbed seven rebounds while senior forward P.J. Gaynor hauled in five rebounds.
Senior point guard A.J. Rompza dished out four assists and stole the ball five times in 35 minutes of action.
The team missed junior center Josh Crittle for majority of the game as he was elbowed in the face and had blurry vision, Jones said. He will return to the starting lineup for next Wednesday's game against Tulsa.
The Knights will need Crittle back as they prepare to take on a Tulsa team (11-9, 4-2) that has won four consecutive games, most recently a 70-46 destruction of Rice on the road.
What's more, the Golden Hurricane's two in-conference losses to Houston and SMU were by one and two points, respectively.
Tulsa is led by sophomore guard Jordan Clarkson and his 15.5 points per game to pair with 2.6 assists. The Golden Hurricane also rebound the ball well and block a lot of shots, and they are led in those areas by sophomore center Kodi Maduka (7.1 rebounds per game, 1.8 blocks).
Most importantly, it is the back end of a two-game road swing for the Knights, one which will have direct implications as UCF postures to be on the NCAA Tournament "bubble" as the season continues.
"We just have to come out and play our own game," Clanton said about the upcoming game against Tulsa. "The environment is going to be different; we're not going to have [our] fans, of course, [but] we're going to have to come out to play aggressive and hard."