March 6, 2010
C-USA Championship Blog
By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The UCF women's basketball team hits the Conference USA tournament on Monday as the defending champions after having become the second team in league history to win four games in four days last season.
But in mindset, the Knights won't be defending anything. The thoughts are more on being the pursuers instead of the team with the targets on their backs.
"We're in the pursuit of a championship; defending it is like somebody can take it and that's not the case," said junior guard Chelsie Wiley, UCF's second-leading scorer this season at 11.1 points per game. "Us pursuing a championship gives us the mindset that we have to take it one game, one minute at a time to do this."
The eighth-seeded Knights (10-15 overall and 7-9 in C-USA play) opens tournament play against the ninth-seeded Marshall (14-15 and 6-10) Monday at 1 p.m. The two teams split two games during the regular season with UCF winning in Orlando on Feb. 4, while Marshall won the C-USA opener for both teams on Jan. 8.
Despite an often trying season filled with plenty of highs and lows, UCF goes into the tournament with the momentum of a 6-3 finish in conference play. Also, it possesses the swagger of a team that won last season's postseason title and knows anything is possible once again.
"I think other teams know that we're capable because of what we did last year," UCF coach Joi Williams said. "People have to respect what we did last year, but nobody is going to fear us. We've got to earn back some of the respect that we lost early in the year. That will be big for us."
Williams has both a championship ring and a sparkly pendant that she wears as a necklace. She is hoping the visions of the championship rings and the banner that hangs in UCF Arena will inspire confidence in the Knights starting on Monday afternoon.
Wiley, who had 17 points and three 3-pointers in the 56-47 defeat of Marshall at the start of February, said she recently put her championship ring away in storage in hopes of heightening her hunger and fixing her focus. She was a big part of UCF's surprising title run last spring and is eager to see if the Knights can repeat the feat.
"I put my ring away this week because I want another one. I'm not putting it back on until I get that second one," Wiley said. "That's how I wanted to go in to the tournament ... hungry.
"We do have a confidence, but we want to keep our heads level," Wiley continued. "We have to put the same target that teams have on us on other teams' backs because they are aiming so hard at us. We have to go right back at them."
UCF's best chances of winning the C-USA tournament might rest on the shoulders of forward Emma Cannon, who was named Third-Team All-Conference on Saturday. Cannon said the Knights will go into the tournament with the knowledge of what it takes to be a champion. She knows that UCF will be considered by most as one of the teams to beat even though they enter as the eighth seed.
"We know what it takes (to win the tournament), but there are a couple of others who have won it too. A lot of teams know what it takes to win, but it will comes down to who wants it the most," Cannon said. "Everybody wants to knock out the team who won it last year. They may feel that we have an advantage, and I feel like we do. But we have to go play hard every night."
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.