McDonald contact

UCF senior guard Sydnee McDonald (21) draws contact against SMU Mustangs sophomore guard Ariana Whitfield (2) during the game on Saturday, Jan. 19 at CFE Arena. The Knights defeated the Mustangs 55-43.

Offense was key for the UCF women's basketball team as they overcame a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat the SMU Mustangs 55-43 on Saturday at CFE Arena.

With a competitive and back-and-forth opening quarter, UCF (16-2, 6-0 American Athletic Conference) maintained a fast-paced offensive tempo, keeping SMU (7-11, 1-5 AAC) on its toes defensively. 

Ending the first quarter up by two points, the Knights made quick plays early on and kept the lead for most of the second quarter.

By the end of the second quarter, the Knights defense was picked apart by the Mustangs' offense, allowing SMU to take a nine-point lead to end the half.

“[We] needed to play harder in the first half, [SMU] was getting a lot more second-chance opportunities, a lot of loose balls, a lot of hustle plays," UCF junior guard Kay Kay Wright said. "I think in the second half we keyed in on that kind of stuff ... We stuck with our offense and came out successful.”

Known for her halftime locker room pep talks, UCF women’s basketball head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson called for a series of adjustments in positioning the press and igniting offensive dominance. 

“In the second half, adjusting the press really helped because we were getting stops and layups so that ignited everybody’s energy,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. 

Key components of the second half adjustments included pressing effort from multiple guards, including senior guard Lawriell Wilson and freshman guard Diamond Battles. 

“Diamond [Battles] came in and she was great on the press," Abrahamson-Henderson said. "We changed our foot position and our press ... We like to play fast, so changing our position in the press helps."

In addition to pressure from all fronts, UCF senior shooting guard Sydnee McDonald positioned herself from just beyond the paint for a total of four three-pointers — three of which were in the fourth quarter.  

“Once Sydney hits a three, the team tries to get her more shots, and I think Kay Kay did a great job of getting her some more shots," Abrahamson-Henderson said. "She had three in the fourth quarter, and the one she hit with 13 seconds left was really big for her.”

Rounding out the fourth quarter with a 16 point lead, the Knights offense was far too dominant for SMU to overcome.

The Knights look to employ some of the pressing methods used against SMU as they set their sights on upcoming conference matchups.

“[We] take it one game at a time," Wright said. "We’re road warriors. We like to go out on the road and fight as hard as we can. We thrive in others’ atmosphere.”

The Knights' victory over SMU marks 300 career wins for Abrahamson-Henderson.

The Knights look to extend their winning streak to eight as they travel to North Carolina on Wednesday to take on the ECU Pirates at 7 p.m.

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