UCF’s Loss to No. 25 Temple Showed Head Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson Complete Culture Change

Despite the loss, the University of Central Florida finishes with its best season since the 2010-11 season.


Game Recap

ORLANDO, Fla. – Tears streamed from the University of Central Florida players’ eyes Monday night. After the Knights (19-10, 9-7 in American Athletic Conference) fell 66-60 to the No. 25 Temple Owls (23-6, 13-3 in AAC) at CFE Arena, the pain of a regular-season finale loss sunk in.

But, for first-year UCF head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, that’s a good thing.

“Next year’s gonna be a lot of fun because I don’t have to change [the culture] anymore,” she said after the game. “They want to win. Like, there was tears in the locker room ‘cus they lost today, where the first few games that we played, there was no tears. I’m like, ‘We’re playing to win. We’re not playing to lose. We gotta hate to lose all the time.’

“And so we got ’em there now, where they hate to lose… It’s a big difference of liking to win and hating to lose. It’s a huge difference. So, right now, my team hates to lose. And that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing ‘cus then that makes you hungry, and you fight to win, instead of trying not to lose every game.”

With 1:33 left in the game, the Knights trailed Temple by three with the score at 58-55. Sophomore Tolulope Omokore‘s missed put-back attempt allowed the Owls to run down the clock and get an and-1, courtesy of junior guard Alliya Butts. Omokore quickly scored on an inbounds play on the next possession, but five Feyonda Fitzgerald free throws kept the Knights at bay for the final score.

“‘Fight. What are we doing?… We’re still in the game.’ But I was saying it the first quarter, the second quarter, halftime—the same thing,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “I’m tired right now because I was trying to get ’em to go, get ’em to go, and they finally started going, but sometimes it’s too late. You can’t wait ’til the end.”

The Owls surprised Abrahamson-Henderson and her players with their defense. In preparation for Monday’s game, the Knights practiced offensive sets against man-to-man defenses. Temple, however, played a zone defense, helping the Owls jump to a 22-8 lead by the end of the first quarter.

“Temple never plays zone. So, that’s a compliment ‘cus they played zone. They never play zone,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “They play man-to-man, full-court press, press, press, and they get in you. I was shocked. And so I think our team was like, ‘Whoah. They’re not playing man.’

“So we really worked on our man offenses, getting open and ripping the ball, and I thought they were going to get up, deny Aliyah [Gregory], and they were in zone. So, our team was like, ‘Whoah. They’re in zone. That’s not what you said, Coach Abe.'”

Turnovers were the Knights’ undoing, however. The Knights squandered multiple possessions on 18 turnovers.

“We were in that game. Again, every game this year, we were in every single game but one. This year,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “They beat us, obviously, and they got some really great players; I’m not taking anything away from that. But we tend to beat ourselves when we lose games. And these are close games we’re losing.”

Player of the Game: Alliya Butts

Butts finished with 20 points on 7-for-16 shooting, including 4-for-10 from three-point range. She also added seven steals in her 40 minutes of play. Her and-1 layup over Ndour helped put the game out of reach for UCF.

What’s next?

UCF travels to Uncasville, Conn., for the start of the American Athletic Conference tournament. That lasts until March 6.

Three-point Shooters

In the waning minutes of the game, the Knights looked to the school’s leader in career three-pointers, Zykira Lewis. Unfortunately for the Knights, she couldn’t muster any late-game heroics.

When it comes to three-point shooting, Lewis has been the Knights’ go-to player. This regular season, she shot 56-for-180 (0.311) from deep. All other guards combined shot 19-for-83 (0.228).

Despite losing Lewis after this season, Abrahamson-Henderson isn’t concerned.

“We won 19 games with having one three-point shooter,” she said. “A three-point shooter is [Omokore] getting an and-1 and making her free throw. That’s a three-point shot. So, I really want people in foul trouble, getting people on their heels… Nyala Shuler next year is not going to be a post player for us, and she can shoot threes. So she’s gonna play a 2, and she’s playing a 4 for us this year.

“Next year, we’re gonna have a lot of bigs. Everybody’s gonna be my height and taller, which is awesome. And then we can move Nyala, who is a true 2 to me, to a guard spot.”

The 6-foot Shuler, however, is shooting only 5-for-37 from deep this season.

Stepping Up for the Tournament

Entering the month of February, the Knights were just 3-5 in AAC play. For Gregory, improving her team’s conference record was one of her most valuable experiences heading into conference-tournament play in March.

“I think the way we stepped up our play just in the last month,” Gregory said after the game. “I know our conference record wasn’t too shabby going into February, but I think Coach really challenged us to step up, win some games, do the little things, stay disciplined and finish out the season strong, and I think we really did that. And that taught us what we were capable of, and it also showed us what we need to do in order to win games.

“And that’s a perfect time because we’re now we’re rolling into conference tournament and postseason, and that’s when it really matters.”

Missing This Team

UCF’s women’s team has seen a tremendous turnaround since the hiring of Abrahamson-Henderson. For the team’s two seniors, it’s bittersweet having seeing so much success but also knowing that this is the only time they’ll play with this coaching staff.

“I’m just really happy with this season, my senior season ‘cus this is the most wins I ever had here,” Lewis said after the game. “The coaching staff is great. I love ’em, and leaving this is gonna be hard for me ‘cus I know they gonna do great things next year, and I just want to be a part of that.”

Said senior Joslyn Massey on playing her last home game as a Knight: “It’s been a nice season. I’m glad we were able to finish out with a nice winning season. Zy and I, we’ve been here for quite a while, so it felt good… This year, we got a new coaching staff, and I felt like we’ve really grown this year, and we built, and we found out some things that we didn’t know about ourselves.”


NDR Notes

  • The Knights haven’t allowed 20 or more points in the first quarter except in two other games. Against the then-No. 22 USF Bulls, the Knights allowed 22 in the first quarter; against the No. 1 UConn Huskies, UCF allowed 24 points. UCF beat USF 66-62 and lost to UConn 84-48.
  • With her first three and second field goal of the night, Lewis scored her 1,800th point. She is second in all-time scoring for the Knights. Tamika Coley (1991-92, 1993-96) has scored 2,006 points.
  • The last time the Knights finished with 19 or more wins was in the 2010-11 season when they finished 22-11, 12-4 in Conference USA play. Before that, the Knights’ last winning season was in the 2004-05 season when then-UCF head coach Gail Striegler led the Knights to a 19-10 record.


Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Final
University of Central Florida 8 14 16 22 60
Temple University 22 9 22 13 66

Statistics and Starting Lineups

Team Leaders

University of Central Florida Temple University
Points Aliyah Gregory (19) Tanaya Atkinson (21)
Rebounds Joslyn Massey (11) Tanaya Atkinson (9)
Assists Korneila Wright (4) Feyonda Fitzgerald (9)
Blocks n/a Ruth Sherrill, Safiya Martin, Shantay Taylor (1)
Steals Aliyah Gregory (2) Alliya Butts (7)
Turnovers Korneila Wright (6) Tanaya Atkinson (3)
Minutes Aliyah Gregory, Zykira Lewis (35) Alliya Butts, Feyonda Fitzgerald (40)

Team Statistics

Rebounds Assists Blocks Steals Turnovers
University of Central Florida 40 12 0 5 18
Temple University 29 12 3 9 10

Shooting Percentages

University of Central Florida Temple University
FG% 47.3% 37.9%
3FG% 30.0% 31.8%
FT% 41.7% 78.9%

UCF starting lineup: Ashley Polacek (G), Zykira Lewis (G), Aliyah Gregory (G), Tolulope Omokore (F), Joslyn Massey (F)

Temple starting lineup: Alliya Butts (G), Feyonda Fitzgerald (G), Tanaya Atkinson (G), Ruth Sherrill (F), Safiya Martin (C)