UCF Becomes Gator Bait, 89-61

The Knights got a bitter taste of what big time basketball is all about as they were dominated by the Florida Gators, 89-61 in front of 5175 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Jacksonville, FL. Florida scored with relative ease inside and outside, and the Knights looked like a team that was outclassed from the opening minutes on.

"I've got to give credit to Coach Donovan and the entire team," Knights head coach Kirk Speraw said. "They did a great job of getting through finals week and coming out very sharp offensively, that doesn't happen very often during finals week."

After a red hot start for UCF in which they hit a pair of three-point shots in their first two possessions, the Florida offense got rolling as they went on a 16-2 run while shooting nearly 80% from the field. The Florida offense cooled down a bit but UCF couldn't capitalize as they were still down 24-14 nearly halfway through the first half.

"I thought they came out sharp and executed their offense very well early on in the ball game," Speraw said. "That got us on our heels. They established things right away."

The Knights perimeter defense improved as the first half progressed, but UCF was no match for the Gators big men, as Florida grabbed rebound after rebound, and their lead swelled for 14 points. Just as the Knights were beginning to make it a game late in the first half, Florida closed on an 11-4 run to take a 52-33 lead into the locker room.

"Certainly that hurt, and they both hurt," Speraw said. "We were sitting there at eight, seven, we might have had a chance there to cut it under that and quite frankly I thought if we could just hang right in there and keep it tight there, because I thought Florida had really shot the ball exceptionally well and I had hoped that we would play a little better defensively. I thought that if we could get into halftime and talk about some things, we could get back in it. Those were huge shots by them certainly."

Florida was led in scoring by sophomore center Alex Tyus, who had 14 points and 7 rebounds at the break, and guard Erving Walker added 14 points on 4-4 shooting, all from behind the arc. The Gators held a 19-6 rebounding advantage, and shot nearly 62% from the field.

UCF was led in scoring at the break by who else, but Jermaine Taylor. Taylor had 13 points on 4-9 shooting, and Issac Sosa added 6 points on a couple three-point shots. The Knights did manage to shoot better than 57% from the field in the first half (12-21), but they were too small and not athletic enough to compete with their neighbors from Gainesville.

The second half began just as the first half ended as Florida pounded the smaller, less athletic Knights inside and out, and the UF lead quickly swelled to 24 points in the opening minutes as Coach Speraw pulled his starters and the game was out of hand quickly thereafter.

"We were looking for some energy," Knights head coach Kirk Speraw said. "We were trying to find answers and trying to find energy. Trying to find someone that would step up and play a little harder for us and execute the details a little better for us. We were just in search mode there."

Florida was led in scoring by center Alex Tyus, who had a double-double as he finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, and reserves Kenny Kadji and Erving Walker added 15 and 14 points respectively. Gators star guard Nick Calathes finished with 16 points on 5-12 shooting and dished out a team high 11 assists.

"I thought our pick and rolls helped a lot," Florida guard Nick Calathes said. "I thought we got the ball inside and I thought we ran a lot. We're an up tempo team and I think that hurt them."

Jermaine Taylor and the rest of the Knights starters played sparingly in the second half as the blowout was on, and finished with just 13 points, more than 8 below his season average.

"Jermaine Taylor is an unbelievable player," Florida guard Nick Calathes said. "I think we had to stop him and that was our game plan. We had to keep switching guys on him so he would get tired. He's the guy to stop and he makes their team flow."

Freshman point guard A.J. Rompza continued to improve as he finished with 11 points on 4-5 shooting (3-3 from long distance) and three assists. Chris Baez finished with a career high 12 points on 4-8 shooting.

The Knights couldn't seemingly throw the ball in the ocean from the beach in the second half as they shot just 29.4% from the field after intermission. UCF was dominated on the glass 38-29, and committed 16 turnovers.

"I think at times we pressed I think our shots weren't coming for us, we'd start rushing into a shot," Knights guard A.J. Rompza said. "Start rushing things we didn't have that we thought we maybe had. Their defensive intensity made us rush into things."

The Knights (5-4) get a chance for redemption on Monday, as they take on Valparaiso at the UCF Arena, a team which defeated them 69-52 a little more than a month ago.

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