Jan. 4, 2011
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By Pat Salvas
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - For the seniors on the UCF women's basketball team, winning is the most important part of playing the game. With the stretch run of their final season approaching, these players are beginning to really grasp the meaning of the term "urgency" that is often used at the end of every practice by the Knights' coaching staff.
This season, those five seniors and the rest of the Knights have put together an impressive run leading up to Conference USA play that begins Thursday at Rice.
Never before had a UCF team posted a winning record in nonconference play leading into games against C-USA opponents. That changed this season with the Knights earning victories over Tennessee Tech (79-69) and Valdosta State (72-44) in the last week to push their overall mark to 7-6.
"It's something new, but I think it's something good for us going into conference play," senior guard Chelsie Wiley said. "It's good momentum and shows us the importance on finishing games."
But don't think that the Knights are going to harp too much on an impressive slate of nonconference games against some of the toughest teams in the nation.
"We have confidence going into this part of the season, but winning also gives us respect," Jelisa Caldwell said. "We've never had that winning record at this point before so teams always thought that we were a fluke. Now that we are here with these wins, the teams around the league will respect us. But we have to continue to earn that respect and win conference games."
Caldwell has been one of the biggest surprises this season, averaging in double figures in scoring for the first time in her career. Her 30 points against Jacksonville marked the first time in two seasons that a UCF player had reached the 30-point mark in a game. She followed that with 21 at Wright State to earn her first C-USA Player of the Week accolade on Dec. 23.
Caldwell's play, along with the play of all the seniors, demonstrates that understanding that this is their final run at league title, something they accomplished as sophomores in 2009.
"Everybody still thinks that this isn't supposed to happen and we are a fluke," forward D'Nay Daniels added. "We have to play with a chip on our shoulders and give every team our best effort to show them what we are really about. We did that my sophomore year and we won. Now we just have to do it again."
The Knights will begin their quest for a regular season conference championship on Thursday at Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston when they square off with the Rice Owls.
"This team could be one of the best teams at UCF," Wiley added. "We can't keep looking into the past because we can't do anything about it. For now, we have to focus on Rice and competing on Thursday."