Preview: Houston at Central Florida
It didn’t take long for Central Florida to get rid of the bad taste in its mouth from a 20-point loss to Memphis as the Knights went out and beat Connecticut 73-67 last Thursday for their 11th victory at home. But now the going gets tougher for the Knights as they welcome 12th-ranked Houston to Orlando on Thursday for a battle between two of the top three teams in the American Athletic Conference.
“Our whole thing after the Memphis game was to get right,” UCF senior guard B.J. Taylor told reporters after the UConn victory. “We knew we had to come back and get back to being who we were and get back to winning.” The Knights came out on fire against the Huskies, surging out to a 15-point lead in the first half but they had to hang on for the win as their usually tough defense loosened up after the break, letting UConn hit 53 percent of its shots in the second half, including 6-of-12 from 3-point range. The Cougars, likewise, rely on their defense and it has carried them to six straight victories, including a 73-66 triumph over Temple Thursday night that avenged the team’s only loss of the season (73-69 to the Owls on Jan. 9) during which each opponent was held to 70 points or less during that streak. “We win with defense,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters. “The thing we hang our hat on — and good teams have something they can hang their hat on — is the way we defend and rebound.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
ABOUT HOUSTON (21-1, 8-1 AAC): Junior guard Armoni Brooks entered the last outing as the Cougars’ leading scorer at 14.8 points per contest but he had an off night against Temple due to foul trouble and was held to a season-low three points, dropping him to second (14.3) on the team in scoring to senior guard Corey Davis Jr. (15.0), who had 24 points against the Owls. Brooks paces the team in rebounds (6.1) while senior point guard Galen Robinson Jr. sits second in the conference with 5.3 assists per game. The Cougars rank sixth in the nation in scoring defense (60.5) and they limited Temple to 34.3 percent shooting from the field to push them up to second nationally in field goal percentage defense (36.3).
ABOUT UCF (16-4, 6-2): The Knights have matched the 2003-04 squad for the program’s best 20-game start in the Division I era, and a victory over the Cougars would give them their best nine-game record in AAC play. UCF ranks second in the conference to Houston in field goal percentage defense (39.3) and third behind Houston and Cincinnati in scoring defense (63.9), but it’s a much-improved and efficient offense — the AAC’s best (46.8 percent) — that is the difference in the team this season. Taylor (16.9 ppg) came up big in carrying the Knights past UConn with his first 20-point game (21) since he totaled 24 in the AAC opener against Temple, but guard Aubrey Dawkins, the team’s second-leading scorer(15.1), was held below 10 points for the second straight game after he scored in double digits the first 18.
1. Houston owns a 14-10 series lead and has won three straight and five of the last six meetings, including an 84-56 victory in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament a year ago.
2. The Knights are just 5-44 against ranked teams, but two of those victories (Alabama, Cincinnati) came in the last two seasons under head coach Johnny Dawkins.
3. The Knights have won 31 home games in a row, the nation’s longest active streak.