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Wednesday, Mar 29, 2023

Women’s basketball trounced at home by Central Florida

Bears forward Ally Welch drives to the basket against the Central Florida defense.
Bears forward Ally Welch drives to the basket against the Central Florida defense.

The Mercer Bears women’s basketball team, hot off a win over the SEC’s Florida Gators, played host to the Central Florida Knights (2-0, 0-0) Sunday afternoon.

This was a rematch for a pair of teams who squared off last season with Mercer edging out UCF on their home floor, 73-64. The Knights were looking to pay Mercer back in kind.

Central Florida opened the game in a full-court press defense, hoping to force Mercer into uncomfortable situations on the offensive end. The strategy worked and resulted in five early Mercer turnovers.

As the first quarter came to a close, the Knights found themselves in control of a 15-10 lead. UCF would hold onto a 17-14 lead when the quarter came to an end.

The second quarter was almost identical to the first. The teams traded buckets for the first eight minutes of action, but it was the Knights who finished strong.

With 2:03 remaining until the half, Mercer took a 26-25 lead. It was the first time the Bears had led since the 6:12 mark in the opening period.

The final two minutes were dominated by Central Florida. The Knights outscored Mercer 8-2 down the stretch to take a 33-28 lead into the locker room.

Turnovers and inefficiency were the major problems for the Bears in the first half. The Knights forced Mercer into mistakes due to their full court press defense that causes chaos for the opposition.

“Central Florida is a unique team,” head coach Susie Gardner said. “They’re M.O. is to not let their opponent score a bunch of points. That’s how they’re successful.”

If the Bears were going to find a way to claw out a victory on Sunday afternoon, they would have to do a much better job of taking care of the ball against the Knights defense.

It was all UCF to open the third quarter. The Knights used the opening two minutes to go on a 6-0 run to take their largest lead of the game, 39-28.

After a Mercer timeout, the Knights continued to build on their lead and stretched a 45-30 margin halfway through the third quarter.

The openings were there, but the Bears just couldn’t land a shot and the Knights were taking advantage of every opportunity created by their suffocating press defense.

UCF held Mercer to just two points on 1-of-11 shooting in the third period and outscored the Bears 18 to 2 to enter the final 10 minutes with a commanding 51-30 lead.

The Knights never let up their full-court press defense even in the fourth quarter. It continued to create havoc for a Bears team with no true point guard to attack it.

“We’ve kind of sprinkled in that person tonight, but it was her first collegiate game as a freshman,” Gardner said. “It was a tough initiation, you could say.”

When the final buzzer sounded, Mercer found themselves on the wrong side of a 76-42 trouncing at the hands of the Knights.

The Bears were outplayed in every facet of the game. They finished the game shooting just 32-percent from the floor, turned the ball over 18 times and got out-rebounded 45 to 31.

“It is what it is,” Gardner said. “It was not a great game, but we’ll move forward.”

Mercer will get the chance to put this game behind them on November 23 when they hit the road for the Coastal Carolina Classic tournament. The Bears will open up with a tough matchup against the Memphis Tigers at 4 pm (ET).


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