March 1, 2012
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Five, 10 or 20 years from now, when Aisha Patrick, Ashia Kelly and Racine Davis return to UCF for a women's basketball game - likely with kids in tow - they'll be able to point to the rafters inside UCF Arena and show how they were a part of something special.
Just above the home bench inside the arena hang Conference USA championship and NCAA Tournament banners from 2009 and 2011 - none of which would have been possible without the contributions from one of the greatest senior classes in UCF women's basketball history.
To understand just how much this program means to UCF's trio of seniors consider this: While talking about playing her final home game, Kelly repeatedly had to wipe away tears streaming down her cheeks. Patrick's voice repeatedly cracked and she had to pause to avoid getting emotional - something she figures will happen in Thursday's Senior Night. And Davis couldn't help but peek up at those championship banners a few extra times during practice earlier in the week.
"It will be an amazing feeling to come back here years later and bring my kids back with me to where I went to college and show them the things that we were able to accomplish as Knights," predicted Kelly, whose shooting last spring helped the Knights win the C-USA tournament and put a scare into Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament. "I'll never forget the first time in 2009 when we won our first conference championship. And then doing it again, I can't even find the words to explain those feelings of winning a championship."
Patrick, Kelly and Davis will play their final home game Thursday at 7 p.m. when the Knights (12-15, 7-8 C-USA) host Marshall (15-13, 6-9 C-USA). It's the final regular season game before next week's C-USA Tournament, an event the Knights have won two of the past three seasons.
A likely six seed, UCF will have to win four times in four days for a third title. The last team to do that was UCF in 2009, but for now the focus is on beating Marshall to prepare itself for what lies ahead next week in Memphis.
"Getting some momentum going into the tournament is important," UCF coach Joi Williams said. "We haven't been pleased with how the last two games have gone and from an effort standpoint we can do a lot better. The kids know that, so I think they'll go all out on Thursday. Marshall is playing really well, but I expect for us to go out and compete hard."
Competing hard is a perfect way to describe the work of Patrick, a four-year starter for the Knights and one of Conference USA's best all-around players. The Rockledge, Fla., native was the starting point guard on both championship teams and will go down in the record books as one of the most accomplished women's basketball players in the history of the programs.
Not only is she averaging 13.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.4 steals a game this season, she is also on the verge of history.
She is the only player in school history to tally 1,000 points, 800 rebounds and 300 assists. With 280 career steals, she needs five more to break the all-time school record. Whether she gets the record or not, Williams said the mark that Patrick has left on the program in indelible.
"When you look back at what we've done with her here, there's no question how important she's been to this program. Going all the way back to our first championship, she was just a freshman, but she was a huge piece to that team. And last year we couldn't have won it without her," Williams said. "She has grown a lot. When she first got here, defenses didn't guard her and just looked at her as a driver, but she's worked hard on her shooting and becoming more of an offensive threat. I'm proud of how she's worked to make herself better. It wasn't always the coaches making her get into the gym; she was in there on her own."
Patrick is usually reserved with her emotions, choosing to show her teammates the image of a leader in total control. She was steady last spring in El Paso, Texas, when UCF won the C-USA title behind her near-triple-double effort with 11 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
She's making no promises about Thursday's Senior Night, knowing that her emotions could overtake her usually staid personality.
"I think it will be real emotional for me. My team has never seen me too emotional, but I've got a feeling that might be the first time that I actually shed a tear," Patrick said. "It will be my last college game in front of my family in Orlando, my last game with Coach Williams and my last game here. I'm about to tear up just talking about it.
"It's amazing how my career has gone here, hanging up two banners and playing all four years. It's almost overwhelming," added Patrick, who has dreams of playing basketball professionally after she's finished at UCF. "I don't want it to end, but at the same time there's a sense of urgency to finish strong. You want to leave a legacy and leave on a good note."
Kelly, a native of Longview, Texas, certainly helped UCF finish on a good note last season. She played her finest basketball in the postseason, shooting the ball incredibly from the 3-point line.
She averaged 10.3 points in the C-USA Tournament and then torched Ohio State for a team-high 16 points and six rebounds in the NCAA Tournament. She is hoping a similar hot streak will help the Knights make a postseason run this season.
"It was the most memorable, enjoyable time of my career," Kelly said. "I was playing with a lot of confidence. I hope that those emotions that I felt in the NCAA Tournament return on Thursday night so that I can play lights out for my Senior Night."
Davis, a 6-foot-3 center from Tamarac, Fla., has given the Knights depth along the frontline this season. She has averaged 1.9 points and 2.7 rebounds a game this year. She said her favorite memory will always be the surprising run to the 2009 C-USA championship.
"They always say your first championship is special, and it still is to me," said Davis. "We came from being picked last in the conference to winning four-straight games that year. It was an amazing run for us."
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.