The Knights were caught in a perfect storm.
The UCF men's basketball team misfired on offense and defense, while Florida turned in arguably its strongest performance of the season.
The Gators (8-2) coasted past UCF (5-4), easily beating the Knights 89-61 at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on Saturday night before an announced crowd of 5,175.
"They established things right away and certainly we were trying to find answers, trying to find energy, trying to find somebody that would step up and fight a little bit harder for us and execute the details for us," UCF Coach Kirk Speraw said. "We were just in search mode."
Sophomore center Alex Tyus led the Gators with 20 points and 14 rebounds, capitalizing on Florida's height and athletic advantage in the paint. Sophomore Nick Calathes added 16 points. Freshman forward Kenny Kadji finished with a career-high 15 points and freshman guard Erving Walker chipped in a career-high 14 points.
Senior guard Jermaine Taylor led the Knights with 13 points in 23 minutes, while Chris Baez added 12 points off the bench and point guard A.J. Rompza chipped in 11 points. Tony Davis and A.J. Tyler, who were game-time decisions, both played against Florida.
The Gators shot a blistering 52 percent from the field during the game and held UCF to 29 percent field-goal shooting in the second half.
"Coach (Billy) Donovan told us he was really proud of us because we played our best offensive and defensive game of the season," Tyus said. "We just worked hard and didn't let up the whole game."
While Florida's execution was flawless, the Knights' ability to finish plays seemed to be as poleaxed as the national economy. Speraw opted to bench his starters with about 12 minutes remaining in the second half. He said he was hoping to find a spark off the bench and rest his top players before facing Valparaiso on Monday night.
Rompza said Speraw told the players they weren't playing tough enough against the Gators.
"He said we weren't playing defense," Rompza said. "… He saw that we weren't playing defense and he tried to get us ready. He put us in a second time and told us to play defense, but we just weren't there as a team."
Florida jumped out to a 17-8 advantage in the first half and continued to maintain at least a seven-point advantage early. Walker hit back-to-back 3-pointers for the Gators with less than a minute left in the first half to give Florida an emotional lift and 52-33 halftime advantage.
The Gators opened the second half in similar dominant fashion, pushing their advantage to 25 points with 13:36 left in the second half to seal the blowout win.
"We're still on that little roller coaster going up and down, not only with our effort but with our execution," Speraw said.
Iliana Limón's Knights Notepad blog on UCF sports can be read at OrlandoSentinel.com/knightsnotepad and she can be reached at email@example.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun