ORLANDO, Fla. – The University of Central Florida dropped its first game of the season to the visiting Virginia Tech Hoakies in thrilling fashion. On Saturday, the Knights (3-1) lost 67-64 to Virginia Tech (4-0) at CFE Arena.
Virginia Tech’s Sydney Cook found herself open in the paint late in the fourth quarter. She turned and made a quick move to the basket, finishing with a left-handed layup that extended the Hokies’ lead to 65-60. The Knights weren’t dead yet, though, as Zykira Lewis fired right back with a pull-up jumper at the right elbow to cut the lead back to 65-62. Then, consecutive turnovers by the Hokies allowed Lewis to drive from the left and make a layup to put the score at 65-64.
But it was all for naught, as Cook’s two made free throws with six seconds to go and Lewis’ buzzer-beating missed three concluded in the Knights’ first loss.
It was opposing three-point shooting that was the Knights’ undoing. The Hokies finished the game 10-for-28 from beyond the arc, knocking down seven of their 13 attempts in the second half. For the entirety of the game, the Knights played a 2-3 zone. That might be due in large part to the Knights’ deficiencies in man defense.
“We could have [switched to man], but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have dribble-drove us, shot threes, threes, threes,” Abrahamson-Henderson said after the game. “We don’t practice man. We’re not good at man right now… It wasn’t what they were doing. It was what we weren’t doing.”
For the first-year UCF head coach, the first loss is not something she sees as a sign of relief; in fact, it’s the opposite.
“I want to win every single game,” she said. “I hate to lose.”
It was a tight game throughout the entirety of the game. UCF’s biggest lead was only four, and Virginia Tech’s was seven. But the Knights were playing from behind for most of the day. In total, UCF held the lead for 9:18 while Virginia Tech held the lead for 22:34.
Neither team really breaking away could have been due in large part to both teams’defenses. In the first quarter, neither team scored until true freshman Korneila Wright made one of her two her free throws at the 6:14 mark. UCF was held to 32.3 percent from the field in the first half but shot nearly 50 percent in the second half. As for the Hokies, the Knights held Virginia Tech to 35.5 percent in the first half and 41.2 percent in the second half.
“I’m like 100 miles an hour [after halftime],” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “Like, it’s usually me. I might have to start the game like that—be a crazy woman. But I’m okay with that. They just gotta come to my level of expectation, my level of fight, my level of everything. They look at me like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ … That’s the thing. I tell them all the time. This is what I’m going to do. I’m gonna fight, fight, fight, fight for you.”
Player of the Game: Kendyl Brooks
Virginia Tech’s Kendyl Brooks came off the bench and played a total of 14 minutes. Her impact came from behind the three-point line, as she drained three of her six attempts. The Hokie finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting.
The Knights travel to face the Butler University Bulldogs on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Aliyah Gregory Returns
Junior guard Aliyah Gregory made her first appearance since being out with an injury following the Knights’ win against the Florida International University Panthers. In her return, she tallied two points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal in 10 minutes of play.
“She’ll come back. It just takes a while,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “When you get injured, you lose that many days of practice… [When] Aliyah gets back, too, it’ll really gonna help us.”
For Abrahamson-Henderson, though, her injury has allowed other players to shine.
“I think it’s really been good, actually, because now look at what [Jamesha Paul‘s] doing and [Kayla] Thigpen‘s been doing. The other guards have really had to step up for us because Aliyah’s been out because Aliyah would play 38 minutes if it was up to me.”
Paul finished the game with 12 points, two steals, two assists and three rebounds in 18 minutes of play. Thigpen tallied nine points on 4-for-6 shooting in 18 minutes.
Thigpen’s spark off the bench was highlighted by a one-dribble, step-back three to beat the buzzer that tied the game in the third quarter.
“In the third quarter, she hit a three and hit some pull-ups, and that’s what she can do for us,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “But she’s gotta play defense. She can’t give up nine and make five. And that’s something she’s really working on. It’s a little different for her. She’s gotta really, really pay attention defensively.”
Statistics and Starting Lineups
|University of Central Florida||Virginia Tech|
|Points||Zykira Lewis (14)||Sidney Cook (17)|
|Rebounds||Fifi Ndour (9)||Sidney Cook (9)|
|Assists||Fifi Ndour (3)||Chanette Hicks (5)|
|Blocks||Fifi Ndour (2)||Kaela Kinder (1)|
|Steals||Zykira Lewis (3)||Samantha Hill (3)|
|Turnovers||Zykira Lewis (5)||Sidney Cook (5)|
|Minutes||Zykira Lewis (35)||Chanette Hicks (37)|
|University of Central Florida||64||43||9||3||9||17|
|University of Central Florida||Virginia Tech|
UCF starting lineup: Korneila Wright (G), Zykira Lewis (G), Jamesha Paul (G), Fifi Ndour (F), Tolulope Omokore (F)
Virginia Tech starting lineup: Genesis Parker (G), Chanette Hicks (G), Samantha Hill (G), Sidney Cook (F), Regan Magarity (F)