UCF looks to bounce back from first defeat
Published: Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 16:01
There is a lot to be learned this Saturday in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Who would have thought that the No. 22 Knights' (14-1, 1-1) contest Saturday against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles could very well be the game that defines the season?
In a season that has so far been defined by a historic 14-game winning streak, which was snapped after a 76-71 loss to the Cougars in Houston, the defining moment could be Saturday when we find out how this previously unblemished team responds to its first loss.
"The game against Houston gives us a chance to learn," said head coach Donnie Jones in his blog. "Usually when you lose, guys listen differently."
Indeed, for a team that has handled adversity well all year, whether it was rallying to beat Princeton, Miami or Marshall, the biggest test could be how the Knights handle this game. The last thing the Knights want is one loss to turn into two, then three and possibly more. And conference play is a place where that can happen, given the intensity of every game. Losing multiple conference games could compromise a spot in the March Madness tournament for the Knights.
The Golden Eagles (13-3, 1-1) are having a good season. Senior forward Gary Flowers is scoring 21.2 points per game for Southern Miss, going 52.1 percent from the field and 47.5 percent from behind the arc. The Knights will still be playing on the road, still with a target on their backs. When UCF comes to Hattiesburg, at least for the moment, it'll be an opportunity for the home team to notch a big win.
One of the most impressive things about the Knights this season has been their ability to take Jones' adjustments, whether given at halftime or in a timeout, and make them work.
"That's who these guys are, they're a unique group," said Jones. "They don't panic. They just really stay focused in trying to find a way to win."
Will that same in-game poise they have demonstrated be able to translate to this rebounding from a loss situation?
One thing is for sure, they cannot afford to start as slowly as they did at Houston. The Knights went down 24-8 early against the Cougars and trailed by as many as 18 in the first half and never took back the lead in the game. It proved to be too much ground to make up.
"Obviously we know that when we play teams, they are going to play at a high level," said Jones. "And we need to match that intensity from the start."
The Knights can't afford to have both of the team's go-to guys, Marcus Jordan and Keith Clanton, have an off night. While Clanton's 13 points and Jordan's 10 points certainly weren't awful numbers, they shot a combined 4 of 15 from the field in Houston and neither stepped up in the way that has been typical of the two stars this season.
Saturday's game will tell us about the team's character. With a rebound win over a good Southern Miss team, the Knights could speak volumes.