Categories: Sports

UCF Makes History at NCAA Tournament

Less than 48 hours after recording the program’s first ever victory in the NCAA Tournament, the UCF men’s basketball team ended their historic season after an unforgettable battle against the No. 1 team in the nation and perennial powerhouse Duke.

Trailing 77-76, the Knights had two good looks at the hoop in the final seconds when senior guard BJ Taylor ’18 drove toward the basket and tried to bank his attempt. Redshirt junior forward Aubrey Dawkins ’18 tipped Taylor’s miss, but both shots rimmed out, allowing the Blue Devils to escape to the next round.

“We left it all out there. We played as hard as we could. I think we showed a lot of people across the country that we were a serious basketball team and that we really could play with anybody,” Taylor said in the postgame press conference. “I know coming into this game a lot of people had us losing by 15-plus to these guys, and they’re a great team. Like coach said, they fought and played extremely hard, but I think we represented UCF as best we could. I think we did everything we could to win that game. It just came down to a couple plays.”

UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins gave an emotional speech in the locker room to the Knights, who finished the year with 24 victories, just one victory shy of the program’s Division I record for victories in a season, set in 2003-04.

“We haven’t had a team play any better against us than they did. They were fantastic.” — Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski

Longtime Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski was extremely complimentary of UCF’s performance following the final buzzer.

“They were deserving of winning. They were so good. I’m so proud that those kids played at the level of their coach,” said Krzyzewski, who coached Dawkins as a player from 1983-86 and later had Dawkins on Duke’s coaching staff from 1998-2008. “It was a great game because both teams played hard. We haven’t had a team play any better against us than they did. They were fantastic.”

History Made

Despite the heartbreak, the Knights will be able to look back fondly on one of the best seasons in school history filled with milestones.

UCF punched its first at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament and made its first appearance in the Big Dance in 14 years. Selected as a nine seed, the Knights earned their highest seeding, topping their previous best (14) by a substantial margin.

The Knights made the most of their opportunity and recorded their first NCAA Tournament win in program history — a 73-58 victory over VCU in Friday’s first round.

That win — the team’s 24th of the season — matched a best for UCF under Dawkins’ leadership. He also led the 2016-17 squad, which advanced to the NIT Final Four, to 24 victories.

Taylor became the first Knight to average 15 or more points in three straight seasons. Fellow senior Tacko Fall finished with 280 blocks in his career, which is a program record. Fall also set a new NCAA Division I record for career field goal percentage.

“I’m just very proud of them. What we were able to do this year as far as competing at the level we wanted to compete at, making the NCAA Tournament, winning a game in the NCAA Tournament says a lot about our senior class because they led us all the way, and I’m just really proud of everything they’ve done for our program,” Dawkins said. “Going forward, we need to use these type of moments to build on. Now our guys understand what it takes to be in these moments, to be in the NCAA Tournament team, and now we need to grow from that. We’ll lose some valuable players, guys that helped do some things at UCF that hadn’t been done before, and now we need the players that are returning to understand the importance of continuing that legacy that the seniors left behind.”

Women’s Season Finale

The historic season UCF women’s basketball season came to a close on Friday evening as the Knights dropped a 60-45 decision to Arizona State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

UCF ended its season with a 26-7 overall record, setting a record for victories this season.

For the first time since 1996, the UCF men’s and women’s basketball teams both appeared in the NCAA Tournament in the same season.

For the first time since 1996, the UCF men’s and women’s basketball teams both appeared in the NCAA Tournament in the same season.

UCF and Michigan are the only two NCAA Division I programs in the country this year who can boast to have had their football team compete in a New Year’s Six bowl game and both their men’s and women’s basketball teams compete in the NCAA Tournament.

All season long, the women’s team reached milestone after milestone. UCF received votes in the USA Today/WBCA coaches poll in each of the 19 weeks, and picked up its first-ever votes in the AP Top 25, appearing in 10 polls on the season. Posting a 13-3 record in the American Athletic Conference, the second-place Knights made their first appearance in The American’s title game for the first time since the league’s inception in 2013.

They made history again when the NCAA Tournament bracket was released — earning the program’s first at-large bid and the highest seed in the Knights’ five appearances.

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