The Knights vaulted themselves into Saturday night’s championship game of the C-USA Championship by playing some of its best basketball of the season in an 81-63 defeat of rival Memphis in semifinal play.
Second-seeded UCF, 21-10 and winners of 10 games in a row, will face the winner of the Houston-Tulane game on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET. UCF beat Tulane 73-69 in overtime on Feb. 17, but lost to top-seeded Houston (16-0 in conference play this season) 71-68 on Jan. 27.
The Knights won the C-USA championship in 2009 and are hoping to repeat the feat for a second time in three seasons.
UCF hit 42.1 percent of its shots, a big improvement over the 32 percent it shot on Thursday. The Knights also set a season high with 11 made 3-pointers on 20 attempts.
Senior guard Chelsie Wiley, who struggled mightily with her shot on Thursday, scored 21 points. A day after missing 10 of 11 shots, she made six of 12 shots and four 3-pointers to spark UCF’s offense. She needs one more 3-pointer to tie the all-time school-record for threes in a career (213) set by Francine Houston from 2004-07.
Junior forward Ashia Kelly, who sparked Thursday’s stirring second-half rally with her energy and defense, hit three 3-pointers in the first half and scored 12 points. Kelly, who averaged just 4.4 points this season made a career-best four 3-pointers when the Memphis defense sagged off of her to defend against Wiley and D’Nay Daniels (16 points and 11 rebounds).
UCF led by as much as 22 points (38-16) early in the first half against a Memphis team built around defense and rebounding. UCF dominated the boards early on, holding a 24-14 edge on the glass. And for the game, UCF outrebounded the Tigers (21-11) 45-34.
The Knights are now 9-2 when scoring at least 70 points and 3-0 when hitting the 80-point mark. UCF is also 18-3 when leading at the half.
Memphis had been 13-1 this season when holding foes under 60 points, but UCF exceeded that mark by the 11-minute mark of the second half.
Clearly inspired by its first-day struggles in the Conference USA tournament, UCF came out inspired on Friday with arguably its best half of the season and led Memphis 45-29 at intermission.
The Knights, who needed a 15-point rally to defeat UAB on Thursday, shot 50 percent in the first half and made seven of 10 3-point shots to take a commanding lead.
The Knights’ only flaws in the first half were their nine missed free throws and 10 turnovers. Senior forward D’Nay Daniels (seven points) ended the half fittingly enough with a streaking layup to boost the Knights’ advantage back up to 16 points.
UCF came out locked in from the start of the game, shooting the ball early on as well as it has at any point this season. UCF made its first five shots and four 3-pointers to race to a 15-4 lead.
By the 8-minute mark of the first half, UCF shockingly led 28-12 – nearly the same score (27-12) that they trailed by at halftime on Thursday against UAB.
The Knights had 12 points in the first 2:51 of Friday’s game – as many as they had in Thursday’s forgettable first half.
John Denton’s Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at [email protected]