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UCF faces powerhouse Memphis for spot in C-USA title game

Memphis TigersUCF KnightsCollege BasketballCollege SportsBasketballConference USA

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- UCF has played its best and worst games of the season against powerhouse Memphis.

The Knights and Tigers split their two games during the regular season, with the UCF earning a historic 68-67 home win over Memphis Jan. 18 and suffering a brutal 84-55 loss to the Tigers Feb. 28 at the FedEx Forum.

Now No. 4 seed UCF (22-9) faces No. 1 seed (24-8) Memphis Friday night on the Tigers' home floor in the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. ET at the FedEx Forum and the game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.

The winner advances to Saturday's Conference USA Tournament championship game.

"They're definitely very talented," Jones said. "They've got a lot of individual talent. They can score in a lot of different ways. Obviously, we've both played two games. We've both come out on the winning side on both sides. ... [It's] going to be a great game. I've got a lot of respect for [Memphis coach] Josh [Pastner] and the job he's done with these guys and they've been playing as well as anybody in the country right now. It's going to be a great challenge for us right now."

The Knights advanced to play the Tigers thanks to a 64-54 win over No. 5 seed UAB (15-16) late Thursday night. Memphis advanced to play UCF following a 65-47 win over No. 8 seed UTEP (15-17) Thursday.

UCF played strong team defense, rebounded the basketball well, avoided turnovers and controlled the tempo during the first win in school history over Memphis Jan. 18. The Knights did the exact opposite during its loss at Memphis Feb. 28, struggling to take care of the basketball and knock down shots under the Tigers' smothering defensive pressure.

"You do have to control what you can, you've got to take care of the basketball, you've got to make sure you get good shots and the right shots and you've got to control momentum," Jones said when asked what they keys were to beating the Tigers. "That's very hard to do offensively, you've got to do it defensively. So we're going to have to have a couple things that we'll have to look at. ... It's going to be a great enthusiasm game."

Senior point guard A.J. Rompza said the Knights had to immediately forget the ugly loss at Memphis earlier this season and focus on playing well as a team. He said he has great respect for the Tigers and the Knights will work hard to turn in a better performance against them Friday.

"They're a great team," Rompza said.

Sophomore guard Isaiah Sykes, who played well during the Knights' win over UAB despite nursing a sprained left wrist, said the Knights have to follow the coaches' game plan to be successful against Memphis.

"We're going against a great team, obviously," he said. "We've just got to go out and execute and limit our turnovers and do whatever we need to do to get the win."

Memphis will have a rowdy home crowd on its side. Heavy rain limited the turnout for the Tigers' game against UTEP Thursday night, but the Memphis fans should pack the FedEx Forum that seats 18,400 fans.

Memphis fans who lingered for UCF's game immediately following the Tigers' win Thursday seemed to be cheering for UAB and against the Knights. While Rompza shot key freethrows late in the game, a Memphis fan shouted, "You're going to lose by 30 tomorrow!"

UCF also has to manage fatigue and find a way to win three consecutive games in three days to claim the C-USA tournament title.

Jones has tried to put his team in good position for a deep tournament run, turning to his bench earlier than usual against UAB.

The Knights have experience coping with a tournament grind. During the Knights' successful Canadian preseason tour and the Battle4Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas, the team played three games in three days. In the Bahamas, UCF's second game of the tournament was a big upset of defending national champion Connecticut.

Sykes said the previous tournaments helped UCF understand what it needed to string together conference tournament wins.

"It prepared us a lot," Sykes said. "I think our coaches did a great job of giving us the experience of how conference tournament play would be."

ilimon@tribune.com or 407-650-6353. Join Iliana Limón's live chat during the UCF-Memphis game Friday at 6:30 p.m. at www.orlandosentinel.com/knightsnotepad.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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