Feb. 24, 2017 at CFE Arena

Availability: HC Johnny Dawkins, F Nick Banyard, G Matt Williams

HC Johnny Dawkins

Williams is averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game.

He’s really helped us establish a culture of competing, a culture of hard work. He exhibits that every time he steps on the floor. I’ve been really proud of him for what he’s done for our group. He’s helped the younger players, he’s always encouraging. He’s been a great captain.

When asked what he thought about playing the No. 15 Cincinnati Bearcats for Senior Night, Dawkins said he welcomes the challenege.

I love it. We want to play the best, and they’re one of the best teams in our conference right now. They’re one of the top-ranked teams in the country as well. And that’s what you want. You want to be in big games. You want to be in games like that for our program, for our team. So we’re excited for the opportunity.

The University of Central Florida is currently on a three-game winning streak.

I think our guys just really stayed together. We went through a tough stretch. And you’re gonna have that in the season. A season is a series of ups and downs, and the teams that end up being very successful are the ones that manage when they’re down. You can’t stay down. You have to get back up. And I think this group has done a good job of fighting their way back off the floor and giving ourselves a chance to still be competitive.

UCF lost to the Bearcats 60-50 in Cincinnati on Feb. 8.

Well, we have to be better. I didn’t think we played very well, and I think you attribute a lot of that to them. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the nation as well. They make it tough for you to score. I think we have to do a better job defensively in transition and do a better job of keeping them off the boards. Those are areas that they were very good in. But they’re a good team. And [Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin] does a great job with his group. We just have to be better as a team.

When asked about Banyard’s impact on the the team in just one season, Dawkins said it was about a light bulb turning on for him.

Nick’s been huge for us. I think he really kinda found himself toward the end of the season. Sometimes with seniors and fifth-year seniors, the light bulb kinda can go on, where you realize this may be it for me. He’s playing with a sense of urgency and with a purpose that I’m really happy about because he’s given us a huge lift, of course, down the stretch of the season.

Well Nick’s brought a sense of maturity to our program. I made him one of the captains as the season progressed because I liked his spirit. He [has a] high basketball IQ, and he competes. And I think he’s kinda brought those things with him here, which have been some good traits. And when he’s kinda been interjected into our group—it takes time to kinda immerse yourself with new guys, and I think they’re starting to get more chemistry. They’re starting to get more comfortable with each other, and I think that’s helping their play as well.

Apart from four minutes against East Carolina University, forward Tanksley Efianayi has missed time from the court because of knee injuries. He last played double-digit minutes (17) in a 66-63 loss to the University of Connecticut on Feb. 11.

I’ve really enjoyed coaching Tank, getting to know him this year. Wonderful young man. He’s given us a lot this year. He’s helped us in a number of games. I feel sorry that he’s not been at 100 percent down the stretch. But he’s getting better. The way he’s moving around today—I’m encouraged and hope that he’ll be able to come out and contribute.

When asked about the significance of the crowd on Senior Night, Dawkins said he hopes the hometown audience saved its biggest crowd for last.

I would love to see—we’ve had some great crowds. Hopefully, we’ve saved that best crowd for last. This is our last home game. It’s honoring our seniors. These guys have given everything that they have. And there’s some good memories along the way this year. So hopefully everyone come out and kinda pay their respects to these young people for the work they’ve put in and for what they’ve tried to do for our program.

When asked about instilling confidence in Williams, Dawkins said it was about four words.

There’s four words, I think—especially for a coach or mentor that are very important for young people to hear is—the four words is, “I believe in you.” And I believe in Matt. That’s very important. And that can’t be phony. It has to be real. And I think through all of our experiences, through all of us developing our relationship over this season, he sees that that I really believe in what he’s doing and who he is as a player. And I think young people can do amazing things when they have that behind them, and I think that’s been a big part of it.

Dawkins played for Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski during his collegiate career.

[Krzyzewski] believed in me. And I think because of that I was able to do some amazing things during that time, and I attribute it to that. And I look at everything through that lens now when I work with young people. You have to have them understand that we believe in them. They can do some amazing things, but if they don’t think you believe in them, then, of course, they’ll put limitations on themselves. And, so, we try to take that ceiling, whatever you want to call it, and kinda move that so they can go as far as they can possibly go.

UCF is No. 1 in opposing field-goal percentage, allowing opposing teams make only 36.3 percent of their shots.

We’ll have to be really focused defensively. They’re a really good team. They’ve always been a great defensive team, but, right now, he has them playing at a high level offensively as well. And that’s a heck of a combination. So we’re gonna have to be really focused from every defensive possession. We have to make sure we know where their shooters are. And then play our UCF defense the rest of the way.

Nick Banyard

Sunday will be the Knights’ Senior Night.

It means a lot to me, not only because it’s my last game here, but, as a team, we definitely been improving. I think we’re definitely more mature, definitely a lot better team than when we played ’em last time. And, I mean, it only helps us out a little bit more knowing that it’s Senior Night and our last home game here playing for the fans.

Banyard, who didn’t have the luxury of summer practices with the team, has scored in double digits in each of his last four games.

Individually, just taking care of the process. Really just having faith in myself. I have a good support system around me with my team—the players, the coaches. And then collectively as a group, I think we just all figuring out, coming into different roles because we all had different roles this year. A lot more freedom. We’re all starting to play for each other. It’s definitely starting to come together.

When asked about what’s key to beating Cincinnati, Banyard said it was about staying within each other’s role.

Definitely do better. Stay within our role. I know I got a little away from our role. I was a little nervous out there. And definitely just have no reason to be nervous. Definitely just go out there, take care of business. Do what I do, which is take care of the defensive end and rebound, and that’ll get me going offensively.

Really just shooting around practice every day. I mean, Coach always brings up my three-point percentage, saying this is the best I’ve ever shot in college. And then he brought last year. I had a good percentage last year too. He keeps reiterating to me, “Just shoot the ball. Shoot the ball. Have confidence in it.”

I’ve always been pretty good at three-point range. It’s just confidence level with me and just learning how to stay aggressive and taking the right shots. Just ‘cus you hit one doesn’t mean you need to take an off-balanced one the next one. If you just go through the offense and just wait, then you’ll get the right shots.

In their past two away games, the Knights have won by a total of five combined points.

We’re definitely starting to play together as a team; not only defensively but offensively as well. We’re all on our roles, and we all believe in each other. We all have faith in each other to take care of business, do what we need to do. And we’ve been less sensitive too. We can get on each other about anything, and we don’t take it to heart or whatever. We just kinda take it, roll with it, listen to ’em and then improve as a team. We can keep moving forward.

For Banyard, Dawkins is a no-excuses guy.

He’s definitely a player’s coach. He listens to recommendations that we have or anything. And he’s a no-excuse type of guy too. We watch a lot of film, so he shows us a lot of our mistakes on film. And then, like I said, experience. He’s been there, he’s done that, he’s been at every position and every role. So, we just gotta trust what he’s saying and just go with it.

When asked about beating Temple in a tightly contest, Banyard said it gives his team a lot of confidence.

That gives us a lot of confidence. We haven’t been very good on the road. So, getting back-to-back wins with ECU and Temple—and then both those games we ended up fighting back towards the end. So I mean that definitely shows us our maturity and gives us a lot of confidence as to what we can do when we’re at home against a good team. I know on the road is even tough, but if we can do it home, we can take care of business.

When asked about what was key to beating Cincinnati, Banyard said it was about defending and rebounding.

I think key, as it always is, is just the defensively and rebounding. We gave a lot of offensive rebounds. We gave a lot of transition points. Offensively, we’re not always gonna have our best games. I don’t think we had our best game against ECU or even against Temple. But we always find a way. We got it done defensively. So I think that’ll be our biggest deal is just our rebounding, defending, and the rest will take care of itself.

Matt Williams

At the end of his senior year, Williams had the decision to transfer for either one more year of eligibility or to come back to UCF. He elected the latter.

I’ve been thinking about it all year. But it’s finally came, and I’m just ready to embrace it now.

It makes me feel proud. I made a big decision by staying. My teammates, they embraced me staying, which made it that much more important to me. I feel like I just made the decision about just staying here and not leaving. I got a lot of love from just society and just from everyone involved with UCF.

When asked about his goals the rest of the season, Williams said it was to make the playoffs.

My goal is just to get to the NCAA tournament, get to postseason play and just be successful in that.

Banyard said before practice Friday that the Knights have been significantly less sensitive.

At the beginning of the year, everybody was kinda trying to get used to everyone, and we was trying to get used to demands from everybody. Trying to get used to everybody’s demeanor, things like that. At first, it was very rough. Guys really didn’t adjust well to being talked to a certain way. You know, Nick’s very outspoken, outspoken dude. He speaks his mind freely no matter the time of day it is. He probably the one that stirring it up. Because of Nick, we’re better with that.

I’m a little more outspoken, but I’m more so by example guy. I took on a role this year, just speaking up when it’s necessary.

UCF is 0-2 against ranked teams this season. In addition to a loss to Cincinnati in early February, the Knights also lost to then-No. 1 Villanova Wildcats early in the season.

Going into this game, we’ve just been working on our transition defense. Trying to make sure that we get back because Cincinnati’s a very good team. They push the ball very well. We’re just trying to make sure we get back and set our defense. When we get back and set our defense, we’ll be successful. So that’s what we’re trying to look forward to doing.

Williams set a UCF single-game record with 11 three-pointers in an 86-64 win over the University of South Florida.

My favorite memory’s gotta be those 11 threes. My favorite memory at CFE is 11 threes.

When asked if he was going to do anything special before his final home game as a Knight, Williams said he wouldn’t do anything differently.

I’ll probably just stick to my regular routine. Just go back to the room, relax little bit. I really don’t know yet ‘cus it hasn’t hit me yet. But I feel like it’s gonna hit me hard Sunday. I’ll just prepare for it.

Coach is a man of very few words. So, if anything, he’s gonna let us go out and handle it like men. I just feel like it just came so quick, but I’m ready for it, and I’m ready for whatever is to come with it.

When asked about the opportunity to beat a ranked team, Williams said he and his team have realized how big of an opportunity this game is.

That’d be very big for us. Coming into this game, we realized that we have a very big opportunity to beat a very good team for a lot of opportunities for our team. We’ve just really been trying to approach it in a way so that we won’t get caught up in who we’re playing rather than—just get used to what we’re doing for UCF rather than getting caught up in the name of the jersey that we’re playing in.

When asked about the importance of defense on Sunday, Williams said it’s first important to get back on defense to set up the defense.

It’s gonna be very important for us. It’s gonna be very important for us to try to get back and set up our defense. We really did good when we get back and set our defense up. We communicate well with each other. We send everyone to Tacko [Fall]. I kinda feel as if that’s the biggest the key for us is once we get back and set up our defense, we feel as if no matter who tries to score, we can stop ’em.

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