Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics
By John Weis (’94)
Next UCF Opponent: Memphis Tigers (19-6, 9-3 AAC)
2021-2022 Record: 22-11 (13-5 AAC, NIT Championship)
Coach: Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway (5th year, 104-49)
Last Game: 2/12/23 Home vs Temple (W, 86-77)
Opening Tip: 2/16/23 8:00 pm, FEDEX Forum, Memphis (TV: ESPNU)
Opponent at a Glance
Banged up and shorthanded, the Knights captured an exhilarating 107-104 double-overtime thriller against the Tigers earlier this year. Can they complete the season sweep? They aren’t favored to do so, but certainly have positive momentum, coming off consecutive conference wins.
Last time these two teams played, the top nine Memphis players were Seniors. Due to injuries since then their bench has shortened a bit, but they still have the edge in this department without question.
The Tigers’ offense revolves around 6’0” guard Kendric Davis (21.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 6.0 apg), the SMU transfer who was the AAC Player of the Year last year for the Mustangs. He already holds several AAC all-time records, including career assists, career free throws made, and single-game assists. He’s also just one point away from the all-time conference scoring record, currently held by Quinton Rose of Temple (2016-2020).
Forward De’Andre Williams (17.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.8 apg) is a more-than-able sidekick to Davis. From UTEP comes 6’5” Keonte Kennedy (9.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg). Alex Lomax is a 6’0” guard who averages 8.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 3.5 apg, but he has missed the last several games with a groin injury. Georgia Southern transfer Elijah McCadden contributes 7.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 1.4 apg.
Also missing games of late is Malcolm Dandridge (ankle), who averages 6.2 ppg and 4.0 rpg. The coach’s son, 6’5” Jayden Hardaway, averages 6.2 ppg and 1.1 rpg. 6’3” guard Damaria Franklin (4.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg) played at UIC last season. Forward Chandler Lawson, who played his high school ball under Hardaway, chips in with 5.7 ppg and 4.5 rpg. The lone non-senior in the bunch is true Freshman Johnathan Lawson (Chandler’s younger brother), who averages 3.7 ppg and 1.9 apg). Senior Kaodirichi Akobundu-Ehiogu, a native of Nigeria, is a big 6’10” guy who often starts but doesn’t offer much in the stat sheet (2.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg).
The Knights have figured out how to avoid the turnover bug that has plagued them throughout a good portion of the year. In their last 60 minutes of play (the Tulsa game and the second half of the Wichita State game), they’ve committed just six combined turnovers. That’s winning basketball! Coach Johnny Dawkins called the Tulsa game “probably our most complete game of the year”.
Davis scored 42 points for Memphis in the memorable first meeting between the two teams, so containing him will be a major key to any success the Knights enjoy in this contest. He attempted 23 of his team’s 31 free throws in the game, making 21 of them.
The ESPN matchup predictor gives UCF a slim 30 percent chance to win.
Through the first 25 games of the season, the Tigers are averaging 81.2 points per game and giving up 73.4. In conference games, they are averaging 86.0 points per game and giving up 79.4. In short, they score a lot, but they also give up more than their fair share.
UCF has won just three of the 11 all-time meetings between the two teams, but they’ve now won two of the past three (they split two meetings last year).
At 9-3, Memphis is second in the AAC standings; they still have two games with the first-place Houston Cougars left – including one this weekend.
If there is another round of conference realignment, it wouldn’t shock me to see Memphis get the call to a Power Five conference. They’ve been a hoops powerhouse for years. They’ve spent millions renovating the Liberty Bowl, where they play their home football games. They also have the backing of Federal Express. If the Big XII came calling it would provide a closer travel partner for UCF, but this seems unlikely.
If you’ve never heard about the plight of Lorenzen Wright, the former Tiger hoops legend, be warned before reading further that it’s a very sad, difficult-to-fathom story. Chosen seventh overall by the Clippers in the 1996 draft, he never became the player many expected but he still carved out a very nice 13-year career. But it’s what happened afterwards that is most shocking, and these are just the highlights of a story that can be seen in more detail in news shows such as 20/20.
In July 2010 Lorenzen Wright went missing, and on the same day a 911 call was made from his phone but only gunshots were heard. The call was dismissed and never reported by the 911 dispatcher because no helpful information could be obtained. Nine days later, Lorenzen Wright’s bullet-riddled body was found in a field near a Memphis golf course. He was just 34 years of age when he died. A seven-year investigation followed. Denials and false accusations abounded at first, but when the dust finally settled it was discovered that Wright’s wife, Sherra, orchestrated the killing to collect a $1 million life insurance policy Wright put in place for his family that included six children. In 2019, Sherra Wright entered a guilty plea to “facilitation to commit attempted first-degree murder” and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The actual gunman was her landscaper, Billy Ray Turner, who was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment plus 41 years. It was later revealed that Sherra Wright and Turner had a relationship that was more than professional.
John Weis is a freelance Writing/PR professional. His company, Weis Words (www.weiswords.biz) serves national clients such as advertising agencies, public relations firms and sports organizations, as well as small businesses and private individuals. A native Central Floridian and basketball enthusiast, he spent six seasons as Broadcast Coordinator for the Orlando Magic Radio Network early in his career. He graduated from UCF in 1994 with a degree in Communications and can’t wait for the Knights to move to the Big XII.