Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics
By John Weis (’94)
Next UCF Opponent: Memphis Tigers (23-8, 13-5 AAC)
2021-2022 Record: 22-11 (13-5 AAC, NIT Championship)
Coach: Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway (5th year, 108-51)
Last Game: 3/5/23 Home vs Houston (L, 67-65)
Opening Tip: 3/10 7:00 pm (TV: ESPNU)
Opponent at a Glance
By virtue of UCF’s 76-70 win against SMU in the first round of the AAC tournament (highlighted by an 11-4 run to close the game), the 18-13 Knights have advanced to take on Memphis. The 23-8 Tigers are now mostly healthy and are well-rested, so the Citro-Knights certainly have their work cut out for them. But if the Tigers don’t play well or if they’re looking ahead to a possible conference championship game against Houston, the Knights could surprise.
As mentioned in earlier game previews, the top nine Memphis players are Seniors. The Tigers’ offense, as always, revolves around 6’0” guard Kendric Davis (21.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 5.6 apg), the SMU transfer who was the AAC Player of the Year last year for the Mustangs – and nearly won it again this season. Davis holds several AAC all-time records, including career points, career assists, career free throws made, and single-game assists.
Forward De’Andre Williams (17.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.9 apg) is a more-than-able sidekick to Davis. Georgia Southern transfer Elijah McCadden, who converted the game-winner in the final seconds of the win against the Knights, contributes 7.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 1.4 apg.
Back from injury is Alex Lomax, a 6’0” guard who averages 7.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 3.4 apg. Also now healthy is Malcolm Dandridge, who averages 6.0 ppg and 3.8 rpg. The coach’s son, 6’5” Jayden Hardaway, averages 5.6 ppg and 1.0 rpg. 6’3” guard Damaria Franklin (5.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg) played at UIC last season. Forward Chandler Lawson, who played his high school ball under Hardaway, chips in with 5.0 ppg and 4.6 rpg. The lone non-senior in the bunch is true Freshman Johnathan Lawson (Chandler’s younger brother), who averages 3.7 ppg and 1.5 apg). Senior Kaodirichi Akobundu-Ehiogu, a native of Nigeria, is a big 6’10” guy who has started games but doesn’t produce many stats (2.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg).
One important player missing will be 6’5” Keonte Kennedy (9.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg), a former UTEP Miner who provided a big lift to the team this season. He suffered a self-inflicted setback, as he punched a wall following a loss to Houston. He’s been ruled out of the entire AAC Tournament.
This will be the third game these two squads will play against each other this year. The banged-up and shorthanded Knights captured a scintillating 107-104 double-overtime thriller against the Tigers on January 12 in Orlando. Ithiel Horton led the way with 30 points for UCF. The Tigers evened things up with a one-point decision in Memphis on February 16, despite losing star point guard Kendric Davis late in the first half. The Knights had several opportunities to steal that game but came up just short – which seemed a recurring theme this year.
UCF Coach Dawkins was understandably noncommittal about specifics in his game plan against the Tigers. “Right now, it’s all about watching tape and figuring out what we want to do in this next game,” he said immediately following the SMU win. “Each game is uniquely different because everyone makes adjustments.”
Much like the Knights, the Tigers’ depth was put to the test earlier in the season. Injuries to key rotation players Lomax (groin) and Dandridge (ankle) forced them to miss significant action, then Davis went down against the Knights and missed the following game against conference champ Houston.
During the regular season, Memphis scored 79.5 points per game while allowing 72.6. In conference play, they scored 81.4 and surrendered 76.0.
Note that the game will be aired on ESPNU. The winner plays in the second semifinal late Saturday afternoon.
UCF has won just three of the 12 all-time meetings between the two teams, but they’ve now won two of the past four, splitting games last year and this year.
UCF’s last conference tournament championship was in 2005, when it defeated Gardner-Webb 63-54 in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament championship game. It was the second of back-to-back tournament crowns, as they defeated Troy State 60-55 in the 2004 title game. We’ve come a long way since then!
At 23-8, Memphis should certainly be part of the NCAA Tournament this year, even if they lose to UCF. At the time I’m compiling this report, renowned “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi projects the Tigers as a #9 seed.
If you asked most people what former Memphis Tiger has averaged the most points per game during his NBA career, they would likely answer Penny Hardaway. But as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend!” The truth is, Penny is just fourth on this list. Why so low? He hung around the league for several years while only a shell of what he was early in his career – and his playing time and career averages suffered as a result. The three ahead of him are Derrick Rose (17.7); ABA and San Antonio Spurs legend Larry Kenon (17.0); and Tyreke Evans (15.7). Hardaway is next after this trio at 15.2.
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.