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Cougars Must Go Through Knights

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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – El Paso didn’t turn out to be such a great visit for the Houston Cougars as they would lose 70-50 to UTEP on Saturday. The Cougars had won 5-straight heading into the game, a season best and the programs’ longest win streak since November-December 2008.

But, the Cougars forgot to tell UTEP. Furthermore, the Miners didn’t seem to care very much as three players for Head Coach Tim Floyd scored in double figures. Gabriel McCulley scored 22, Julian Washburn, 19, and John Bohannon chipped in 14 and pulled down 11 rebounds. UTEP is now 8-8 and will host SMU on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Cougars are looking to start another win streak against a team that is 9-0 at home, 12-3 overall, the second best team in C-USA behind 15-2 Southern Miss. Cougars Head Coach, James Dickey, knows these Knights protect their home court well.

“They’ve got a veteran team back. (Marcus – son of Michael) Jordan is an outstanding player. I’m sure they’re motivated in conference, first three games for sure because their Head Coach is not with them. Coach (Shawn) Finney has done a really good job; beat Tulane there then went on the road and had a convincing victory, (81-63), at East Carolina.”

The Head Coach of the Knights is 2nd year man Donnie Jones who is currently suspended for the first three games of conference play. UCF took a proactive measure as mandated by the university in response to the NCAA allegations released in November.

CENTRAL FLORIDA IS STOUT

Junior 6’3” shooting guard, Marcus Jordan, son of Basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, is the leading scorer and averages 17.2 points per game. He’s also on the floor more than any other starter with an average 36.4 mpg.

Jordan’s backcourt and high school teammate, A.J. Rompza, averages 11.3 ppg and also attended Whitney Young High School in Chicago. He will be making his 80th career start on Wednesday and was C-USA Player of the Week after averaging 13.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.0 steals and 4.0 rebounds in wins over Tulane and East Carolina.

“He’s very deserving,” says Associate Head Coach Shawn Finney. “He’s a young man that’s worked extremely hard, not only during the season but in the offseason to try and to have an impact on this team. It’s his senior season and to be able to come out in the first week and win that says a lot about what he means to this basketball team.”

The Knights start a 6’9 junior forward in Keith Clanton who became the 15th player in UCF history to score 1000 points. Junior 6’9” center Josh Crittle has started the last 8 games at the position and averages 4.1 ppg in 16.9 minutes. Isaiah Sykes is their 6’5” sophomore small forward who averages 11.5 ppg. He tallied 20 points and 10 boards in the victory against East Carolina.

The player that concerns Dickey the most is Jordan who needs 20 points to reach the 1000-point mark and ranks 2nd in C-USA in points-per-game. He is one of their go-to-guys when the Knights need the big basket.

“He can get to the basket, he’s hard to contain, he’s got a nice step-back, he can get to the free throw line. The biggest thing you’ve got to do with him is make sure you have defensive awareness, know where he’s at,  and not let him break down your defense.”

“He’s also a very good passer. They rely on him. He’s going to get some points; but not let him just go off and have a big game.”

BACK-TO-BACKS

This is the second of two consecutive games on the road for the Cougars and it doesn’t get any easier against the Knights. We told you they are 9-0 at home for the season. However, even better, they have won 14 consecutive games at UCF Arena. Focus was a weakness against UTEP but needs to be the strength of the Cougars against the Knights.

“I thought we had a great look in our eye against Tulsa,” says Head Coach James Dickey whose Cougars defeated the Golden Hurricane 70-69 in overtime on last Wednesday.

“We didn’t play particularly well, but it’s a 2-point game at El Paso. Then the second half just did not play very well; only had 8 field goals, scored 19 points, didn’t get to the free throw line, turned the ball over, and got out-rebounded. Those – are toughness plays. So, we’ve got to be tougher (and) have a better mindset on the road.”

The Cougars are led in scoring by 6’6” junior forward Jonathan Simmons with a 12.5 ppg average. 6’2” freshman guard Joseph Young, 6’0” freshman guard J.J. Thompson, follow with 11.5, and freshman forward TaShawn Thomas rounds out the double-figure scoring group with 10.5ppg. 6’6” sophomore forward Alandise Harris and Simmons average 4.5 boards per game and are the team’s leading rebounders.

FINAL THOUGHTS

While the future Big East Cougars have a compliment of scorers, Head Coach James Dickey knows what’s most important and intensely critical while playing away from the friendly confines.

“In conference play, on the road, it’s about defending. Execution (is critical) on the offensive end, but you’ve really got to defend. Limit what the home team gets, eliminate those runs and try to keep the crowd out of the game. So, that’s what we’ll (try to) do our best. And then the other thing is, you can’t give them second chance opportunities off the glass. So, you got to rebound. Then you can’t turn that basketball over.

The Cougars average 18.5 turnovers per game which is 10th out of 12 teams. However, they are the number 1 scoring offense in the conference at 77.5 ppg.

Tipoff between the Cougars and Knights gets underway Wednesday night at 6 p.m.

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