UH upsets No. 18 UCF
The Cougars have had a reputation for starting games at a sluggish pace, and for having an undersized roster.
But that identity changed Saturday.
The Cougars (9-6, 1-1 Conference USA) looked like a deep team, and started the game on fire – keying a 76-71 victory over the undefeated and No. 18-ranked UCF at Hofheinz Pavilion.
UH held an 18-point lead for a time, but in the second half UCF (14-1, 1-1 C-USA) trimmed the deficit to five points on multiple occasions.
The Knights were forced to intentionally foul, and the Cougars were able to nail clutch free throws down the stretch.
“We were trying to be more conscious to play a whole game,” guard Zamal Nixon said. “Sometimes we put one half together, we’ve never put a full game together. We did that tonight.”
With the announced attendance of 3,458, it made for a rowdy crowd for the Knights to contend with. For first-year head coach James Dickey, it was his first landmark victory at UH.
“Because we’re at home, I want our players to expect to win and defend home court,” Dickey said. “It’s important for this team to build confidence. But we’ve got a dream here that we want to fill this arena again. It was pretty loud with the people we had here. If we will it up, it’s going to be a special place to win.
“You‘ve got to protect home court.”
Tensions were running high throughout the game, and the action was consistently physical. Dickey was adamant about his players wearing their emotions on their sleeves.
“It’s about passion, energy, enthusiasm and togetherness,” he said. “When you’re not playing you need to be the biggest cheerleader you can, when you’re playing you need to leave it all on the floor.
UCF’s leading scorer and the heir to His Airness – Marcus Jordan – was held in check by the Cougars as they were not intimidated by the name on the back of his jersey.
“Regardless of him being Michael Jordan’s son we just wanted to try to contain him,” Nixon said.
Kirk Van Slyke had a hot hand in the first half shooting six of eight. which was a big reason for the Cougars’ quick start. But he found himself on the bench after fouling out in the second half, leading to freshman forward Alandise Harris having to step in.
Harris responded with 14 points, and going nine of 10 from the charity stripe.
“You got to eat,” Harris said. “They called my number, you got to eat.”
For Nixon it was his 22nd birthday, and he will have plenty to celebrate with the win.
“A great birthday present,” he said.
The Cougars have not beat a ranked opponent at home since 2005 when they topped Arizona. Their next game is Jan. 15 against SMU at the Crum Basketball Center.
Nixon and Van Slyke led the team in scoring with 17 points. Forward Kendrick Washington missed his third straight game with a staph infection. In their last contest the Cougars’ lost their C-USA opener to Southern Miss. 85-73. Prior to that they crushed NAIA opponent Rogers State with an 85-48 win.