When the UCF men’s basketball team returns to the CFE Arena on Saturday for their matchup with Tulsa, they will be looking to bounce back from their first loss since Dec. 2.
The 75-67 road loss at Wichita State on Wednesday night snapped a seven-game winning streak for UCF. The team’s last loss before Wednesday was a 64-62 overtime defeat at Missouri on Dec. 2.
“It was a weird feeling, but it happens,” redshirt senior guard Dayon Griffin said of losing for the first time in a month and a half. “We can’t let that be a meltdown for us. We’ve got to just keep picking each other up and keep moving forward.”
After a quick turnaround, head coach Johnny Dawkins said he wants the Knights (13-3, 3-1 American Athletic Conference) to be mentally prepared for what’s coming their way as AAC play begins to heat up.
“We’re in a heck of a conference," Dawkins said. "It’s very competitive. The main thing we have to understand is that they’re all going to be challenging and they’re all going to be tough. We need to prepare that way with the right mindset.”
After allowing 75 points for just the third time this season in Wednesday's loss, UCF will need to get back to its defensive roots on Saturday.
Senior guard and forward DaQuan Jeffries, who is averaging a team-high 13.4 points per game this season for the Golden Hurricane, will draw a lot of attention from the Knights.
“Jeffries is a terrific player," Dawkins said. "What an athlete. He’s really improved his three-point shot. He’s one of their best three-point shooters now as well, so you have to guard him out to the line and with his explosiveness, that makes him a tough guy to guard.”
UCF is allowing 63.9 points per game this season, while Tulsa is scoring 71.4 per game.
Griffin said Friday that the Knights have to be ready for another intense game like the one they just played earlier this week.
“[Tulsa’s] an aggressive team," he said. "They beat us last year at their place. They’re a drive-and-kick team. They like to shoot a lot of threes, so we got to lock in mentally. It’s going to be another tough game.”
Since Dawkins arrived in 2016, the Knights have been best known for their defense.
However, the team still has plenty of scoring ability. Redshirt senior guard B.J. Taylor is leading the team with 17.2 points per game this season, while redshirt junior guard Aubrey Dawkins isn’t far behind with 16.3 points per game.
Senior center Tacko Fall is also averaging double-figures, scoring 10.2 per game.
Saturday’s game is UCF’s only home game between road trips, as the team will head out for games at Tulane and Memphis next week.
The Knights are looking for their ninth straight win at the CFE Arena and while Dawkins said the team loves playing in front of the home crowd, the focus for his players is sticking to their game regardless of the atmosphere.
“Our student body will be out and our fans will come out, but we need our guys to go out on that court and really play the way we’re capable of playing,” he said. “Whether we’re home or on the road, our guys have got to come out and play with the right type of mindset and bring the defensive intensity that we’re known for.”
Tipoff for Saturday’s matchup with the Golden Hurricane (12-6, 2-3 AAC) is set for noon.