AAC player of year Battles transferring from UCF to Georgia

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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ATHENS, Ga. — American Athletic Conference player of the year Diamond Battles is following her coach to Georgia.

The Lady Bulldogs announced Monday that Battles is transferring from Central Florida, allowing her to continue playing for new Georgia coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson.

Battles was a unanimous choice to the All-AAC first team this past season, also claiming defensive player of the year and MVP honors in the league tournament.

She will be a fifth-year senior for the Lady Bulldogs, who are preparing for their first season under the former UCF coach. Abrahamson-Henderson was hired by Georgia after Joni Taylor left for Texas A&M.

“Diamond Battles is one of the nation’s most elite players, and I look forward to seeing the impact she will have on this program,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “She is a relentless defender who can score and distribute the basketball as a next-level point guard. She is also a leader and someone teammates love to play with.”

The 5-foot-8 Battles led the Knights with 13.9 points per game to go along with 3.4 assists and 2.1 steals. UCF won the league’s regular-season and tournament titles, earned its highest seed ever in the NCAA Tournament and finished 26-4.

Battles also played a major role in the nation’s top-ranked defense. UCF allowed just 47.8 points per game.

Fudd helps UConn advance 52-47 over UCF in defensive battle

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — Freshman Azzi Fudd scored 16 points and hit two key free throws late as No. 2 seed UConn outfought No. 7 seed UCF 52-47 in a defensive slugfest Monday night to advance to an NCAA record 28th straight Sweet 16.

Christyn Williams added 12 points and Paige Bueckers had nine for the Huskies (27-5), who have not allowed an opponent to score more than 51 points in their last 10 games.

“It was a battle the whole game,” Williams said. “We just tried to throw the first punch and keep punching them.”

Diamond Battles scored 12 points, Brittney Smith added 11 and Tay Sanders had 10 for UCF (26-4), which saw its season end along with a 14-game winning streak.

These two former American Athletic Conference foes knew each other well and the Knights weren’t intimidated playing in front of a loud sold-out Connecticut crowd where the students were cheering baskets made in pregame warmups.

The Huskies led by just three points at halftime, but extended that to 12 points midway through the fourth quarter.

They led by 10 before Sanders 3-pointer from the left corner with 3 1/2 minutes remaining made it 48-41 and started the Knight’s final push.

UCF closed the gap to three points twice, the last time when Williams fouled Smith with 15.1 seconds left and the 6-foot-3 post hit her foul shots to cut the deficit to 50-47.

But Sanders fouled Fudd on the other end and the freshman calmly made her free throws to seal the win.

The game was extremely physical, with both teams pressing and playing lock-down defense. There were 45 fouls called, 24 on UCF.

The Knights held UConn to just 14 baskets on 48 shots (29.2%), but hit just 16 of their 46 (34.8%) UCF also struggled from the foul line, going just 10 of 20.

“This was a rather new experience for me, coach Geno Auriemma said. “It was what we thought it would be it was going to be really difficult and it was going to be ugly looking and it was.

“We could have easily let that game get away from us and we didn’t,” he said.

BIG PICTURE

UCF: The Knights have had the most successful season in school history, winning the AAC regular season and tournament titles, earning their first Top 25 ranking, notching their first NCAA Tournament win and beating in-state rival Florida for the first time ever after 26 straight losses. Monday’s loss was the Knights first in 15 games.

UConn: UConn, which beat mercer 83-38 in the first round, improves to 18-3 as a No. 2 seed and 29-2 all-time in the second round, where they last lost in 1992. They fell in the first round a year later. The Huskies move on the Sweet 16, where they have not lost since falling to Stanford in 2005.

UP NEXT

UConn will face Indiana in Bridgeport on Saturday.

Jarreau gets triple-double, No. 7 Houston tops Tulane in AAC

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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FORT WORTH, Texas — DeJon Jarreau was headed to the locker room after the first triple-double for Houston in almost 30 years when coach Kelvin Sampson echoed what other coaches have been telling him.

They thought the senior guard could get one before he left.

Jarreau finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 10 assists, leading the No. 7 Cougars to a 77-52 victory over Tulane in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament on Friday night.

It was the first triple-double for the Cougars since Bo Outlaw had 10 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks against Texas A&M on Feb. 17, 1993. The feat was also a first for the American tournament, which is being played for the seventh time.

“The fact that it happens very seldom in college tells you how special the guys are who do get them,” Sampson said. “I’m so happy for him because that’s going to be a memory. His unselfishness, his toughness, those are the things that show in triple-doubles.”

Quentin Grimes scored 15 points and Marcus Sasser added 14 as each connected on four 3-pointers to help the Cougars (22-3) recover from a cold-shooting first half from long range.

Justin Gorham had 11 points and seven rebounds for Houston, which will play the UCF-Memphis winner in the semifinals Saturday night.

Kevin Cross scored 11 points for the 10th-seeded Green Wave (10-13), who stayed with a Top 10 team into the second half after beating seventh-seeded Tulsa 77-70 in the first round.

“I thought the second half they just came out and just wore us down,” coach Ron Hunter said. “We’ve gotten better. The future is bright for these kids. We don’t have enough right now, but we will one day.”

While Houston never trailed, the nation’s third-best team in scoring margin had trouble building a comfortable lead because of 13 misses in its final 15 attempts from 3-point range in the first half, including eight in a row.

The Cougars were 6 of 22 from 3 when Grimes made one for their first 10-point lead at 48-38. On Houston’s next possession, Sasser hit another shot from long range for a 51-40 lead.

Sasser, who was 4 of 8 from 3-point range while Grimes went 4 of 9, later connected for a 60-42 lead with seven minutes remaining as the Cougars outscored the Green Wave 44-23 in the second half.

Grimes and Sasser combined to make five of six from long range in the second half, and Jarreau assisted on the first three.

“I always love to see my teammates score,” said Jarreau, who had nine assists four times previously. “Makes me feel like I score. When I pass the ball and I think it’s a good shot, I’m even yelling to shoot it. I think that gives them confidence as well, alongside their work.”

Jarreau was a rebound shy of a triple-double when he re-entered the game with 4:16 to go. Shortly thereafter, his 10th defensive rebound secured the first triple-double in the conference in two years.

“Even when I thought Houston was struggling early, he made every single play to kind of keep them around until they could blow the game open,” Hunter said. “If he can play this way, I think they’re hard to beat.”

BIG PICTURE

Tulane: The Green Wave wrapped up a seventh straight losing season with a freshman and three sophomores in their starting five. When he took the Tulane job two years ago, Hunter had one losing record in his previous 18 seasons at IUPUI and Georgia State. The first-half showing against the Cougars offers hope that Tulane’s losing run can end in 2021-22.

Houston: The Cougars entered the game leading the nation in field-goal percentage defense at 37% before Tulane made five of six shots to start the game. It didn’t last for the Green Wave. They ended up at 37% for the game. Tulane was 8 of 18 on free throws.

JOINING THE OUTLAW

A reporter told Jarreau after the game he had just talked to Outlaw, who wanted to congratulate the New Orleans native. Jarreau responded by saying a member of the coaching staff had been mentioning Outlaw to him.

“They were always kind of reminding me because they thought I was capable,” said Jarreau, who had teammates counting down the rebounds for him in the second half. “Tell him I appreciate it, and I’m happy I was the next one to do it.”

NO BREAKTHROUGH

Tulane had two chances in the first half to take what would have been its first lead when trailing by a point. Tylan Pope missed from inside the arc on the first, and R.J. McGee later couldn’t connect on a 3.

UP NEXT

Houston is looking for a third straight trip to the American championship game.

No. 11 Houston uses big first half to cruise past UCF 75-58

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HOUSTON — Quentin Grimes scored 18 points, Justin Gorham added 15 points and nine rebounds and No. 11 Houston used a dominant first half to cruise to a 75-58 win over UCF on Sunday.

Grimes scored in double figures for his 11th straight game after opening the season with eight points against Lamar. Houston (11-1, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) won its fourth straight game since its loss to Tulsa.

The Cougars shot 42%, including 8 of 25 on 3-pointers. Houston forced UCF into 20 turnovers, which the Cougars turned into 22 points.

Jamille Reynolds scored 14 points, and Dre Fuller Jr. and Darin Green Jr. each had 12 points for UCF (3-5, 1-4). The Knights, who lost their fourth straight, shot 44%, including 4 of 19 on 3-pointers. UCF went over 10 minutes without a field goal in the first half.

Houston jumped out to a 38-9 lead capped by a three-point play from Brison Gresham with 3:43 left in the half.

The Cougars started the game with four straight 3-pointers – two by DeJon Jarreau and one apiece from Grimes and Marcus Sasser – and hit eight of their first 10 field goals. Grimes and Sasser each had eight points in the game-opening run.

Houston led 45-19 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

UCF: The Knights were without guard Darius Perry for a second straight game. UCF lost its third consecutive game against Houston and seventh in the last eight meetings. Brandon Mahan had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Houston: The Cougars played their first game in eight days. Their game at South Florida on Jan. 14 was postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing within the USF program. Houston won its 18th straight game at home.

MOVING UP

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson earned his 650th career win, moving him into sole possession of 41st place on the NCAA wins list. Sampson passed former Houston coach Tom Penders.

UP NEXT

UCF: Hosts SMU on Saturday.

Houston: Hosts Tulsa on Wednesday.

Marcus Sasser, Caleb Mills lead No. 6 Houston past UCF 63-54

Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
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ORLANDO, Fla. — Marcus Sasser scored 19 points and Caleb Mills delivered seven of his 12 points in the closing minutes to help sixth-ranked Houston pull away to a 63-54 victory over UCF on Saturday.

The Cougars (7-0, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) overcame cold shooting by holding UCF (3-2, 1-1) to one field goal over the final 8:50 to remain unbeaten and deny the Knights a second win over a Top 25 opponent in a week.

As good as Houston was defensively down the stretch, though, UCF was just as tough on the Cougars. Mills was the only Houston player to score from the field in the final seven minutes, driving the baseline for a layup that made it 50-45 and adding a three-point play that put his team up 57-48 with just over a minute to go.

The Cougars went 11 for 11 from the foul line in the final 2:24 to put the game away. Dejon Jarreau hit the last four free throws to finish with 10 points.

Brandon Mahan led UCF with 13 points. Darin Green Jr. added 12.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: The Cougars survived their first true road test of the season, improving to 3-0 since resuming play following a 15-day break due to COVID-19 concerns. Four games were either postponed or canceled during the stretch, including a scheduled home date against UCF on Dec. 15.

UCF: A week after beating then-No. 15 Florida State on the road, the Knights were unable to pull off another upset. In just over four seasons under coach Johnny Dawkins, UCF has won five games against ranked opponents. The Knights had three such wins total in the 22-year span prior to Dawkins’ arrival.

UP NEXT

Houston: At Tulsa on Tuesday.

UCF: Remains at home to face conference rival Tulane on Wednesday.

Mahan scores 32 as UCF stuns No. 15 Florida State 86-74

Albert Cesare / The Enquirer, Cincinnati Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. —  UCF hadn’t played in 13 days, yet the Knights’ top players looked as if they were in midseason form in knocking off a Florida State team that hadn’t lost at home in nearly two years.

Brandon Mahan scored 26 of his career-high 32 points in the second half and freshman Isaiah Adams added 22 points as UCF beat No. 15 Florida State 86-74 on Saturday night, ending the Seminoles’ 27-game home winning streak.

Mahan shot 10 of 13 from the floor and 10 of 10 from the free-throw line as UCF (2-1) won for the first time in 12 games against the Seminoles.

Darin Green Jr. scored 20 points for the Knights, who opened the second half by making 6 of 7 3-pointers to pull away. UCF shot 27 of 54 (50%) from the floor and 9 of 19 (47.4 %) from 3-point range.

UCF’s trio of Mahan, Adams and Green accounted for 74 of the team’s 86 points.

“They played with a lot of confidence and that confidence permeated to the rest of our team as well,” UCF coach Johnny Dawkins said. “It’s been tough. We haven’t been able to play that many games. It’s been hard on our guys.”

Adams had eight rebounds and Mahan added six rebounds as UCF won the battle on the boards 32-25.

UCF also put the game out of reach at the line, making 23 of 26 (88.5%).

“We’ve been in the gym getting our shots up,” Mahan said. “Learning and buying in.”

The Knights did just that, putting away Florida State for a fifth win over a ranked team since Dawkins took over at UCF in the 2016-17 season.

M.J. Walker scored 22 points, two shy of a career high, as the Seminoles (4-1) saw their streak of 41 straight home non-conference wins snapped. RaiQuan Gray and Anthony Polite had 14 points apiece.

Florida State shot 24 of 51 (47.1%) and 10 of 23 (43.5%) from 3-point range. But the Seminoles made just 16 of 26 free throw attempts (61.5%), had more turnovers (14) than assists (11) and couldn’t make a late push, as they did in recent wins over Indiana and Georgia Tech.

“I’m not in a panic mode,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We’re a team that’s still growing and developing. We’re not a team that’s fine-tuned yet. I think this team exploited some of the areas where we need to improve.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Florida State had gradually moved up in the top 25, but this loss should drop the Seminoles a few spots and potentially out of the top 20.

MAJOR MAHAN

Mahan, a Texas A&M transfer, had a key role in all three of UCF’s games this season. He scored 21 points in a loss to Michigan but had 12 second-half points in a win over Auburn. Mahan has made a big jump from last season, in which he started 30 games and averaged 7.5 points in his first season in Orlando.

TAKEAWAYS

UCF: The Knights hadn’t played since a Dec. 6 loss at Michigan but pulled off their first win over a ranked team since knocking off Cincinnati on March 7, 2019.

Florida State: The Seminoles lost for the first time in Tallahassee since No. 1 Duke defeated Florida State 80-78 on Jan. 12, 2019.

UP NEXT

UCF: Hosts Cincinnati on Tuesday.

Florida State: Hosts Gardner Webb on Monday.