In the act of competition, it is a unanimous belief that victory is favored over defeat. You certainly won’t find a diversion from the will to win among any members of the UCF Basketball team. Still, Saturday’s 76-71 loss in Houston which gave them their first blemish of the season might have been the best thing for the Knights.
“I think that in a way it was almost like we were kind of tight at times,” said junior A.J. Rompza. “We were scared to make mistakes because that streak was on the line. If you look at it, you can say that it’s kind of better now. Now we can play more freely.”
Despite the loss, UCF remained in the top 25 in the coaches and AP polls. With the ranking still intact, the burdens of success are there to stay. Head coach Donnie Jones has talked in recent weeks about the experience of this team being the hunted by the opposition for the first time.
Center Tom Herzog has had plenty of time spent around a team with a target on their backs while at Michigan State. Perhaps that can partially explain why the senior had a team high 13 points off perfect 4-4 shooting against the Cougars. The wisdom he learned at MSU is something he tries to impart now on his team for the remainder of the season.
“At Michigan State, there were a couple times where we were in the top five,” said Herzog. “Beating a team that’s ranked high, it makes your season. You just have to know that and come out harder and even more ready to play. At Michigan State, we had that a lot. Everyone would come out and give us there best game.”
Before Monday’s practice Jones tweeted that “great teams grow with adversity”. As his team gets back to work this week, the consensus is that a new focus and intensity arose for a team dealt with their first setback. Rompza talked about forgetting the feeling of losing after reeling off 14 victories to start the year and that he and his teammates were not looking to repeat it soon.
“You show me someone who has had great success and I’ll show you someone that has had great adversity,” said Jones. “I think that’s the biggest thing we have to get across to our team right now. Especially in conference play, there is going to be adversity throughout the year. I think it is important how you grow with it and how you adjust to it.”
With a week off leading into Saturday’s tilt in Hattiesburg versus Southern Miss, the opportunity to reset is something the Knights are taking advantage of. With players coming out harder in practice after the loss, they have adapted the mentality their coach was looking for and appear on track for greater successes. Jones knows that this has become a pivotal week to chart the team’s course for the rest of the year.
“It’s like when your winning you can continue to roll up the mountaintop with it or it can also come down like an avalanche,” said Jones. “You have to make sure you stop that and turn it back to a positive anytime you’ve had a negative.”
News & Notes
- Jones hinted at switching the lineup around for Saturday based on performances the rest of the week in practice. On his Monday radio show, the coach already revealed that center Tom Herzog would regain his starting spot. Herzog started the first three games of the season before he suffered a wrist injury.
- UCF currently ranks third in the country in blocked shots with 7.1 blocks per game, trailing Arkansas and Connecticut. These efforts are largely contributed to by Herzog, who ranks 13th individually in blocks at just under three per game.
- Marcus Jordan and Donnie Jones appeared on ESPN First Take Monday morning. Here is the link to video from the segment. http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=6007791