ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Sure, the UCF women's basketball team has had to take its lumps at times along the way, but this plan of attack -- scheduling a difficult early-season schedule stocked with formidable foes -- is a tried and true formula for the Knights.
Now, with Conference USA play less than a week away, UCF hopes that its tough schedule will prepare it for another strong run through the league. That has certainly been the case in recent years as the Knights found their stride to win two of the last three C-USA titles.
UCF made a furious second-half charge on Friday, but it couldn't quite overcome a poor first half in a 60-47 loss to Florida State at UCF Arena. The Knights (5-7) worked relentlessly to get within 10 points of the Seminoles (8-6) late in the game, and despite matching FSU's 32 points in the second half, they couldn't get over the hump in the nonconference season finale loss.
"I'm very encouraged. One thing we did well was that we fought until the end," UCF head coach Joi Williams said. "We did a pretty good job on the boards and we out-rebounded them. We just couldn't hit shots in the first half. We had a pretty good week of practice, but we just couldn't hit those shots consistently."
UCF just completed a rugged three-game stretch against Virginia Tech (ACC), No. 3 Notre Dame (BIG EAST) and Florida State (ACC), going 1-2 during those games. The hope is that the elevated competition will prepare the Knights for Thursday's C-USA opener against East Carolina at UCF Arena at 7 p.m.
"It prepares us -- playing these tougher teams. I wish we could get some of those nonconference games back because we knew these last three games were going to be tough," Williams said. "We played some tough teams and we're not going to get down about it. We'll use it and it'll make us better. Teams like Florida State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Florida Gulf Coast could be NCAA Tournament teams and the fact that we played them is only going to help us."
Senior point guard Aisha Patrick recorded her fourth double-double of the season with 11 points and 13 rebounds and added two assists and two steals before fouling out with 27 seconds remaining. Freshman guard Andrea Hines gave the Knights some scoring punch in the second half, sinking two 3-pointers to finish with 14 points.
Junior guard Gevenia Carter chipped in 12 points for UCF, which shot 23.4 percent from the floor and made just three of 13 shots from behind the arc.
Florida State's long frontline gave the Knights problems, but Patrick is confident that it will aid them later in the season against C-USA foes.
"Our (nonconference) schedule gets us ready. It helps us with that transition of getting ready to play each team," said Patrick, who has been a part of UCF's C-USA titles in 2009 and '11. "We're prepared now going into conference play. Now, it's just about believing in the coaches and the game plan."
Now, the Knights are looking ahead to Thursday's start of C-USA play as a new beginning.
"We look at it as a fresh start and a brand-new season," Williams said. "If you would have asked me when the season started what I expected in the nonconference, I wouldn't have said 5-7, but it is what it is and we can't get it back. I told the team what we can do is learn some great lessons from these past 12 games and go into conference play knowing what we have to do. We have three seniors who have won two championships and a junior who has won one. It will be a dogfight every night and we're excited."
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.