The UCF Knights enter Thursday's American Athletic Conference tournament playing their best hoops this season, but they will have to beat a familiar foe in order to advance to the quarterfinals.
Seeded sixth in the tourney, the Knights will square off against No. 11-seed East Carolina in Thursday's last of three first-round games in Fort Worth, Texas.
UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins and his Knights (10-11, 8-10 AAC) enter the tournament riding a season-best, four-game winning streak.
The last of those four victories was over ECU on Thursday in Greenville, N.C. The Knights ended their regular season with a 64-60 win behind Isaiah Adams' 15 points and Darius Perry's 14-point, 11-rebound, five-assist output.
UCF also beat ECU (8-10, 2-10) on Jan. 27, earning a 71-64 victory as Darin Green Jr. poured in 18 points and grabbed six rebounds.
The Knights used a dominant first half in Orlando -- leading 42-25 at the half -- and held on for the win to snap a five-game losing streak.
UCF has swept the season series six straight years and currently owns an 11-game winning streak over ECU.
After last year's tournament cancellation, Dawkins said his team is excited to go back to Texas and play.
"It was very disappointing (for everyone) to have our season end so abruptly," Dawkins said, reflecting on last year's tourney. "We were in the locker room getting changed up and ready to shoot. We were waiting for our game prep, and all of a sudden it was canceled."
The fifth-year coach said he expects second-leading scorer Brandon Mahan (12.5 points per game) and C.J. Walker (7.3) to return against the Pirates.
A transfer from Texas A&M, Mahan missed last week's game against ECU, while Walker hasn't played in UCF's last two contests.
In addition to dipping below .500 for the first time this season last Thursday, the Pirates dropped an 82-69 home decision Sunday to Cincinnati after playing just three games last month due to a COVID-19 shutdown.
Pirates leading scorer and rebounder Jayden Gardner said his team struggled coming out of the layoff in its first game back Thursday against the Knights.
"It was very tough," said Gardner, who averages 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. "Three weeks off, very hard. They hit us in the mouth early. I think they've played like nine games since we played, basically every other day. They came out with a rhythm and confidence."
--Field Level Media
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