Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics
By John Weis (’94)
Next UCF Opponent: Tulsa Golden Hurricane (5-22, 1-15 AAC)
2021-2022 Record: 11-20 (4-14 AAC)
Coach: Eric Konkol (8th Season Overall, 158-97; 1st Season at Tulsa, 5-22)
Last Game: 2/21 vs East Carolina (L, 62-60)
Opening Tip: 2/26 5:00, Donald W. Reynolds Center, Tulsa (TV: ESPNU)
Opponent at a Glance
The Knights are 2-8 in their last 10 games. Tulsa has lost nine in a row, including a 96-52 decision to UCF on February 11 – and has won only five games all season. Including this one, only three regular-season games remain.
Tulsa’s top scorer is 6’4” Junior Sam Griffin (15.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2. apg). He missed his first game of the year in the team’s last contest against East Carolina due to an undisclosed issue, so his status against UCF is unknown.
He’s followed by 6’9” Sophomore Bryant Selebangue (12.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg), who shoots an amazing 62.6 percent from the floor. Other key players include 6’1” Chicago State transfer Junior Brandon Betson (9.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 2.3 apg); 6’7” Junior Tim Dalger (9.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg); and 6’3 Sophomore Anthony Pritchard (8.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.1 apg). The lone Senior player in the rotation is 6’3” Keyshawn Embery-Simpson (4.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.4 rpg).
Sterling Gaston-Chapman, a 6’5” Sophomore (3.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and 6’6” Freshman Brian Knight (2.4 ppg, 1.3 rpg) provide support off the bench.
Ithiel Horton led the Knights with 20 points in the first meeting between UCF and Tulsa. Taylor Hendricks added 18. All told, five Knights finished with double-figure scoring – and they made 17 three-point shots. Darius Johnson also dished out 10 assists in the win.
With the Knights’ victory earlier in the year, the all-time series is now tied at 13 wins apiece. UCF has captured six of the last eight meetings. The teams split two games last season, with UCF winning 76-67 on Valentine’s Day behind 17 points from Brandon Mahan and 14 from Darius Johnson.
This season, Tulsa has averaged 66.3 points per game and given up 77.9. In conference play, they average 64.5 and surrender 82.1.
The ESPN matchup predictor gives the Knights an 91.2% chance to win.
“You have to execute the game plan to be successful,” Knights Coach Johnny Dawkins said following the home loss to USF, when asked about their recent slump. “We haven’t really executed some of the things we want our guys to do. They’re capable of doing them, so we have to keep teaching them and pushing them until it clicks. We did it before; we just have to get our continuity back.”
One wonders if Tulsa Coach Eric Konkol is re-thinking his decision to leave the security of Louisiana Tech, where he never suffered through a losing season. Tulsa was once a fairly proud basketball program, but Konkol’s successor, Frank Haith departed and left behind a roster lacking in talent and experience.
Though he’s not settling for moral victories just yet, Konkol was encouraged by his team’s performance in their last outing, a 62-60 setback against ECU – a game they nearly won despite missing their leading scorer, Sam Griffin. “Seeing us get closer can create a little bit more confidence in what we need to do Sunday against a very good (UCF) team. We did a lot more right in this game than we have the last few weeks,” he said following the game.
The best player in Tulsa’s history is arguably a current one – Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz. He has become a legitimate star since arriving in Utah, and this year he’s averaging a career-high 21.1 points per game, to go along with 4.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He’s also spent time with the Lakers and with Cleveland. For his career, he’s averaging an impressive 15.9 points per contest.
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.