Written By: Brian Pohl
Orlando, FL- An American Athletic Conference battle saw the UCF Knights take on the Houston Cougars in which the Cougars outlasted a late UCF comeback attempt for a victory to move to 17-5 on the season and 7-3 in conference play.
During his post-game press conference, UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins gave a lot of credit to Houston’s execution in the game saying, “They were the aggressive team for a larger part of the game then we were. I thought the second-half we ratcheted it up some and were able to cut the lead down some, but you give them a lot of credit.” He continued, “They came in right from the tip and played a very physical, aggressive game.”
After a big victory over UCONN for the first time since both universities joined the American Athletic Conference, the Knights looked to continue their momentum in conference play against a Houston team that was coming off of a tough loss to 8th ranked Cincinnati.
Better execution from the opening tip-off was the key to success for Houston as the Cougars lead the entire half, leading by as much as 11 before heading into the locker room. The biggest reason for the Houston lead was their ability to knock down the three-point shot, as they shot 40% from beyond the arc.
Leading the way for the Cougars in the first half was guard Rob Gray who had 10-points, making one three-pointer and dishing out four assists. Gray’s success would continue in the second half, as he finished with 20 points and 5 assists for the game. Coach Dawkins said of Gray’s performance, “I thought down the stretch he was really the difference. He willed the game for them down the stretch. I thought we were making our runs and he probably made 3 big baskets down the stretch.
For the Knights, a slow start to the game lasted throughout the first half, as UCF was unable to knock down shots on a consistent basis, shooting just over 30% from the field. They were able to stay in the game, however, thanks to their ability to get to the free throw line, making five free throws in the first half.
The second half saw the action ratchet up, as both teams shot with more consistency. The Knights were able to battle their way back into the game but just were unable to get over the final hurdle and take the lead. Twice in the second half, the lead for Houston was brought down to two points, but a great defensive effort by the Cougars, followed by clutch shooting down the stretch, was what ultimately sealed the game for Houston. Big 3-point shots from Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks would stall any comeback hopes from the Knights, and the Cougars would leave CFE Arena with a 69-65 victory.
Some positives to be taken away for UCF, as they were able to get four players into double-digit points. After the slow start, they shot over 47% from the field in the second-half, which was great to see after the slow start to their game in the first-half. The biggest take away of the Knights was their success at the free throw line. Finishing the game making over 80% from the stripe, it was this that gave them a fighting chance in the final minutes of the game. If UCF can continue to find success with their free throw shooting, they will bounce back in the final games of the season, heading into tournament season.
The loss moves UCF to 14-8 on the season, and down to 5-5 in conference play. A tough matchup against the 8th ranked Cincinnati Bearcats is next up for the Knights, who will travel to Cincinnati for another key AAC matchup.
UCF and Cincinnati will tip-off on February 6th at 7:00 p.m. on CBSSN.