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Turnovers, UCF's Thigpen Doom Liberty in 53-45 Setback

December 21, 2018  St. Petersburg, Fla.  RSS
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Melis Ucar scored a career-high nine points versus UCF on Friday.

Melis Ucar scored a career-high nine points versus UCF on Friday.

UCF's Kayla Thigpen scored 14 of her 16 points during the second half, while the Knights converted Liberty's 29 turnovers into 26 points for the game. As a result, UCF withstood a determined effort by the Lady Flames to post a 53-45 victory during Friday's opening day action of the St. Pete Shootout at Eckerd College's McArthur Center.

Kay Kay Wright added 17 points as UCF improved to 10-1 with its seventh consecutive victory despite scoring a season-low 53 points.

The Lady Flames have now lost three straight games by a total of 14 points, dropping to 2-9 on the season. Liberty got more than half (23 of 45) of its points off the bench, including nine apiece from Kierra Johnson-Graham and Melis Ucar. Ucar's tallies set a new career high.

Box Score Highlights
Liberty Individuals: Kierra Johnson-Graham – 9 points, 7 rebounds; Melis Ucar – 9 points, 4-4 FG; KK Barbour – 6 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists; Ashtyn Baker – 6 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists.

UCF Individuals: Kay Kay Wright – 17 points, 7-9 FT; Kayla Thigpen – 16 points; Brittney Smith – 8 points, 3 steals.

Key Team Stats: Liberty (42.9 percent, 18-of-42) shot better from the field than UCF (38 percent, 19-of-50), but the Knights got to the foul line more than twice as often (24 to 11) as Liberty. UCF entered the game ranked No. 5 in the nation for three-point field goal percentage (42.6 percent) but missed all seven of its tries from long range. Liberty won the rebounding battle (35-29) for the fifth straight game, aided by a 23-12 advantage in the second half.

Turning Point
Emily Lytle scored the second half's first point on a free throw, pulling the Lady Flames within three (26-23). UCF then outscored Liberty 12-2 over the next 7:29, aided by 10 Lady Flames turnovers.

Kayla Thigpen scored eight points during the surge, and the resulting 13-point deficit proved to be too much for Liberty to overcome.

Game Summary
First Quarter
• Kay Kay Wright scored 12 first-quarter points for UCF, helping the Knights maintain a slight edge throughout the period.

 • Eight of the Lady Flames' 11 points during the period came inside the paint, helping Liberty stay within four (15-11) through 10 minutes of play.

Second Quarter
• UCF took its largest lead of the first half (26-17) when Kayla Thigpen converted a steal into a fast break layup at the 2:52 mark, capping off a 6-0 burst.

• Liberty battled back to within four (26-22) at the intermission by scoring the session's final five points, including three by Tatyana Crowder.

Third Quarter
• The turnover bug bit Liberty in the third quarter, as the Lady Flames committed nine of them before making their first field goal of the second half.

• Melis Ucar came off the bench to score seven points during the third stanza, helping cut what was a 13-point deficit to 10 (42-32) heading to the final period.

Fourth Quarter
• Liberty began the fourth quarter with six straight points. Mya McMillian's hoop at the 6:30 mark capped off an overall 11-2 run that had begun late in the third quarter, bringing the Lady Flames within four (42-38).

• However, that's as close as the Lady Flames got. Kay Kay Wright's two free throws and Brittney Smith's hoop from close range on the Knights' next two possessions halted Liberty's momentum, and the Lady Flames committed six turnovers the rest of the way.

Liberty Head Coach Carey Green Quotes
"I'm very proud of our effort for the entire game. This was maybe the best team we've played all year. They have length, they're quick and they can turn you over. We do have to address the third quarter. We stayed tough on defense, but you can't score if you turn the ball over and don't get shots."

Notes and Nuggets
• Melis Ucar's nine points nearly doubled her previous career high of five.

• Kierra Johnson-Graham scored six of her nine points in the fourth quarter, one game after tallying eight of her 10 points during the fourth quarter at UNCG on Sunday.

• The Lady Flames held UCF well under its season scoring average of 70.5 ppg.

• Five of Liberty's nine losses this season have come by single digits.

• Liberty is now 0-2 all-time against UCF, but Friday marked the teams' first meeting since Jan. 2, 1991.

• The Lady Flames are 0-3 all-time versus American Athletic Conference opponents, with two of the setbacks (East Carolina and UCF) coming within the last nine days.

Up Next
Liberty will wrap up its stay at the St. Pete Shootout on Saturday with a matchup against preseason Atlantic 10 Conference favorite Duquesne. Tipoff for the second all-time contest between the Lady Flames and Dukes is set for 5 p.m. at Eckerd's McArthur Center.

Date: Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018
Location: St. Petersburg, Fla. (McArthur Center)
TV: None
Radio: LFSN Radio (90.9 FM The Light Lynchburg)
Tipoff: 5 p.m.