March 19, 2011
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By John Denton
COLUMBUS, Ohio (UCFathletics.com) - UCF effectively handled Ohio State's massive size advantage and it even handled the Buckeyes' decided homecourt edge, but ultimately the Knights' hopes of pulling off a NCAA Tournament upset were snowed under by something they couldn't handle -- an avalanche of turnovers.
Thirteen-seeded UCF hung tough throughout and put a second-half scare in fourth-seeded Ohio State, but 18 turnovers resulted in the Knights falling 80-69 to the Buckeyes in first-round play of the NCAA Tournament play.
For UCF (22-11), it was a frustrating end to a run in which it came in on an 11-game winning streak and a championship last week in the Conference USA Tournament. The Knights got as close as five points early in the second half and were down just seven with 10 minutes to play, but eventually the errors caught up to them.
``We outrebounded them and that was a huge part of our gameplan, but we didn't count on having 18 turnovers,'' UCF coach Joi Williams said. ``We had done a better job with (turnovers) lately, but we didn't do a good job of it tonight. We kind of got rushed.''
Down the stretch, the Knights wouldn't go away quietly, fighting to the bitter end. After falling down by 18, UCF scored 10 points in a row to get within 73-65 in the final two minutes. But any chance UCF had of pulling the upset ended when junior guard Aisha Patrick (eight points, eight rebounds and six assists) couldn't convert a layup and Ohio State's Samantha Prahalis (19 points, 10 assists) responded with a three-point play off a foul.
The grit was indicative of a UCF team that salvaged its season with a stirring late-season run in which it did not lose the entire month of February and won three games in as many days during the C-USA tournament.
``I'm just happy about the way that I did for my senior year,'' UCF senior forward D'Nay Daniels said. ``It's just kind of tough not being able to play (anymore). I'm proud of everyone and it's just really hard right now''
Added junior forward Ashia Kelly: ``I think the run helped us establish ourselves and going into next year, we know what we can do and we're going to go back to doing that and we'll try to keep this run going as long as we can next year.''
Ohio State All-American center Jantel Lavender, the four-time Big 10 Player of the Year, battered the Knights inside for 30 points and 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-4 post player made 13 of 22 field goals by scoring with both hands and even hitting three face-up jump shots.
UCF got 16 points and four 3-pointers from Kelly, while Daniels added 16 points and 10 rebounds in her final game with the Knights. Senior guard Chelsie Wiley scored 11 points and became the school's all-time leader in 3-pointers made with 214. Despite being undersized at almost every position, UCF outrebounded Ohio State 39-33.
UCF was making its fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and the first since 2009 when the Knights fell 85-80 to North Carolina. Five current UCF seniors were on that 2009 team and credited that experience with calming the team's nerves for Saturday's game at Ohio State.
The 13th-seeded Knights, champions of the Conference USA tournament last week in El Paso, entered the NCAA Tournament as the winners of 11 consecutive games. Ohio State, winners of the Big 10 Championship each of the past three seasons, has now won 10 games in a row.
The game was played on OSU's campus at historic St. John Arena where the Buckeyes had played just once before this season. A crowd of 5,658 - most of them Ohio State backers - attended the game. Williams said playing the game at Ohio State was a disadvantage for her team, but she understood the need to do so in the NCAA Tournament.
``Of course if you play at home it's always an advantage for the home team. It was a fantastic atmosphere, but the crowd didn't beat us,'' Williams said. ``It is what it is right now in Women's Basketball and this is the best thing for the game. We had to play on somebody's home court and you'd love to play on a neutral court, but that didn't happen, but we're still plenty happy about the season that we had.''
The first-round game pitted two of the largest schools in the country by enrollment. UCF has 56,235 students and is the nation's second-biggest school, while Ohio State is third with 56,064 students on its massive campus.
UCF put together a 9-4 run to start the second half to get as close as 47-42 to bring its crowd, band and cheerleaders to their feet. But Prahalis continued to give UCF problems with her quickness, twice getting steals in the open court and converting them into crushing layups.
Wiley became the school's all-time leading 3-point shooter midway through the second half when she buried a triple from the corner off an out-of-bounds play.
UCF was within 62-58 with 10 minutes to play in the game, but Ohio State baskets off of offensive rebounds hurt the Knights' chances of cutting even further into the deficit. Ohio State outscored UCF 46-28 in the paint and 28-11 off turnovers.
``We got to within six or seven points a couple of times and then we just had crucial turnovers,'' Williams said. ``We'd either allow them to cut to the basket for a layup or we'd turn it over. It didn't have anything to do with our (stamina) because we played three games in a row last week and we'd had a week off. We just made critical mistakes and when you play a team of Ohio State's caliber you can't afford to have mistakes like that creep up on you.''
UCF trailed 43-33 at the half thanks to some fearless shooting from Kelly, the sparkplug of the run to the C-USA championship last week in El Paso, Texas. Kelly made five of eight shots in the first half, including three 3-pointers when Lavender refused to come out of the paint and guard her.
Even though they extensively scouted Lavender and game-planned to keep her from turning over her left shoulder for shots, UCF had no answer for the 6-foot-4 center early in the game. She scored 16 points on six of 11 shooting in the first half, many of them on powerful post moves. Ohio State made 17 of 33 shots (51.3 percent) and three 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes.
Said Daniels: ``We went in with a game plan and we were trying to make them beat us with their weaknesses. I'd rather go out with somebody converting on their weaknesses than us just giving it to them.''
UCF made five 3-pointers in the first half to stay within striking distance. However, none early on from Wiley who was trying to become the school's all-time leader in 3-point shots. Wiley, UCF's leading scorer during the regular season, missed all five of her shots in the first half.
Jelisa Caldwell, the MVP of last week's Conference USA title run with 27 points and 12 rebounds against Tulane, scored six points in the first half. The senior finished with eight points and six rebounds.
It wasn't so much Ohio State's size as it was its quickness that bothered UCF in the first half. The Knights turned the ball over seven times early on - many of them unforced errors and leading to run-out buckets for the Buckeyes.
UCF started the game with a wave emotion and made it to the first media timeout leading 10-9. Kelly, one of UCF's best players last week in the C-USA tournament, hit two 3-pointers in the game's first three minutes to give the Knights an early lead.
Williams said what she will remember most about this season is the stirring late-season run and a second C-USA title in three seasons as opposed to Saturday's sloppy finish. She stressed that UCF's five seniors - Daniels, Wiley, Caldwell, Leah Paige and Angelica Mealing - left a legacy at UCF that won't soon be forgotten.
``It's incredible to be associated with these young ladies and especially these five seniors,'' Williams said. ``They started (games) as freshmen and for them to go out with two championships under their belts and winning two of three years, it's phenomenal. It's tough for them right now and it's tough for me, but we'll look back at it when it's all said and done and be proud of the legacy that we've left. We've got to build on it next year because we've got a lot of good players coming in. I'm just excited about the future of UCF basketball.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.