Nov. 17, 2011
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By John Denton
ORLANDO - Already owners of two Conference USA titles and veterans of NCAA Tournament play, guard Aisha Patrick and forward Ashia Kelly came into this season fully understanding the expectations of the UCF's women's basketball team.
The two seniors have played a major role in helping to establish the culture of winning surrounding the program. Complementary players in the past, they both know that the pressure to maintain the winning tradition falls directly on their shoulders.
"We know what the expectations are around here. Coach (Joi) Williams stresses what's expected here from the seniors all the way to the freshmen, so that we know what we have to do," said Kelly, who scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in UCF's NCAA tourney game against Ohio State last spring. "We're trying to establish a tradition here and a top-25 program, and we think we're headed in the right direction."
The Knights (0-1) play Florida A&M (1-0) in their home-opener Friday night at 5 p.m. The game will be a part of a doubleheader with the UCF's men's team, which faces High Point at 7 p.m. The women's team will be at home again on Sunday, hosting Mercer at 2 p.m. as the weekend kicks off a nine-game homestand.
UCF's women lost a heartbreaker in the season-opener at South Alabama, falling 89-76 in three overtimes. Sophomore Aarika Judge's banked-in 3-pointer in the first overtime was disallowed when it was ruled the shot came after the buzzer. South Alabama hit a fade-away 3-pointer with seven-tenths of a second remaining in the second OT to force a third.
Sophomore center Erika Jones set a school record with 24 rebounds in the game, while she and Patrick played a staggering 50 minutes in the game.
Williams, who has built UCF into a consistent winner in her four seasons in Orlando, feels the Knights have the pieces in place to crack the top 25 this season. UCF lost its top two scorers, D'Nay Daniels and Chelsie Wiley, from a season ago but supplemented the returning core with dynamic freshmen such as Meghan Keough and Bryeasha Blair.
"You always want to do better than you did the season before, so we obviously have great expectations. We lost a lot of key players, but we're excited about the group that we have coming back," said Williams, who worked with the Team USA Under-19 World Championships Team over the summer and won a gold medal in Chile. "I'm excited about the newcomers that we have coming in here. Kayli Keough sat out last year after transferring and had a great year practicing with us. She knows what to expect and we bring two starters back in Ashia Kelly and Aisha Patrick. And we have some really good young players. So we're looking forward to this season."
Patrick, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists in the opening loss, is the unquestioned leader for UCF because of her tireless energy. One of Conference USA's best defenders in years past, Patrick is looked to more now for her offense.
She has worked on making the transition from being a set-up point guard to one who now runs off screens and looks to shoot more. Williams said after the exhibition victory against Lynn that UCF would go this season as Patrick goes.
For what it's worth, Patrick said she will try to play the same way she always has without putting added pressure on herself.
"I'm more poised now and I'm slowing down more. My freshman and sophomore years I was always in a hurry and thinking I've got to go so fast. Now, I know what it takes because I've been in that position so many times," Patrick said. "We don't have to do anything that we don't normally do. Everybody has their role and we'll play off each other and as a team. I'll step up my game and everyone knows that my offense comes from my defense."
Patrick said there wasn't a day that went by during offseason drills that she didn't think back to UCF's defeat of Tulane in the C-USA title game last spring in El Paso, Texas. That moment drove her to work harder at her craft. She has shared many of those memories with UCF's younger players in hopes of teaching them the expectation of success at UCF.
"Every time you play in a championship game your adrenaline is rushing and you feel like you have to play perfect. But for me, it's about having fun. I love the atmosphere and I always want to get back to the feeling of a championship game," Patrick said. "This year is the biggest time for me and I want it more than anything because it's my senior year. Now, I have that sense of urgency and I treat every practice and every game like they are my last."
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.