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November 25, 2008You might think a freshman appearing in just his third college game would be intimidated playing in a hostile environment like "The Pit," but A.J. Rompza isn't your typical freshman.
UCF's rookie point guard said he loved every minute of it.
Rompza and five other freshmen played key roles in the Knights' 72-71 victory at New Mexico over the weekend. The win snapped a 33-game non-conference home winning streak for the Lobos, who have earned a national reputation for being difficult to beat on their home floor.
New Mexico typically averages about 14,000 fans in Albuquerque and Saturday's game drew a crowd of 12,707.
"That was the biggest crowd since I've been playing basketball," said Rompza, who scored nine points in the win. "Sometimes in high school we'd have 5,000 or 7,000 fans, but nothing like that. That crowd was rowdy. It was just ridiculous. I love playing in places like that where everybody is against you."
UCF had trailed New Mexico for most of the game and were facing a nine-point deficit with about two minutes to play, but Rompza said the team never believed the game was out of reach.
"People have always told me in everything I do to never give up," he said. "Always play through until the horn sounds. I think that's the most important thing. Whether we're down 15 or we're down two, we have to play to the end, and especially when you're up.
"In times like that, the pressure is really on you because you've got play defense and do all the right things. They're going to start hitting shots like we did, so you play hard whether you're up 10 or down 10. I think when you do that and play hard, you're going to be successful."
UCF ended the game on a 12-2 run, capped off by a Chris Baez game-winning three-pointer with four seconds remaining. Moments earlier, Baez had sank another three which had narrowed the lead to six.
"Chris is one of the best shooters we have besides Jermaine (Taylor) and Drew (Speraw)," Rompza said. "Usually when he lets it go it's good. Right when I saw it leave his hand I knew it was good. He had already hit a couple threes so I knew he was going to have a good game. He had a lot of energy in that game and was motivating everyone. I knew it was his time to hit a big shot."
Rompza said the team is now focused on the next team on the schedule-- Ole Miss. The Knights will take on the Rebels in Oxford, Miss. Wednesday night at 8 p.m. EST.
Ole Miss (3-1) is led offensively by sophomore point guard Chris Warren, who scored 28 points Sunday in their 82-78 win against Marshall.
"From what we saw on film they're a real athletic team," Rompza said. "They've got a really good guard (Warren), but I want to play against the best. That can only help me. I think if we do the right things that we need to do then we'll have a chance to win. The games we're playing now are not going to be easy, but they're going to help us down the road. These are going to be tough games, but we have to stick together."