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UCF MBB looks to build on win at Cincinnati, hosts Tulane Saturday

Coming off its biggest win of the season, UCF is now hoping to keep it going when Tulane visits Addition Financial Arena on Saturday at 12 noon.

Despite limited depth (Dre Fuller Jr. out for the season, Dazon Ingram missing the game due to illness), the Knights won for the first time ever in Cincinnati, knocking off the Bearcats in double overtime 89-87. The unlikely heroes of the game were freshman Tony Johnson Jr. and Brandon Mahan, both of easily had their best games in a UCF uniform.

Johnson, seeing extended minutes with Ingram unavailable, scored a career-high 21 points with nine rebounds, six assists and a whopping six steals. Mahan matched a career high with 20 points, most of those coming from layups at the basket.

After struggling to an 2-7 start in American Athletic Conference play, the Knights (14-11, 5-8) have now won three of their last four games.

UCF now looks to sweep the season series against Tulane after crushing the Green Wave 74-55 in New Orleans on Jan. 14. While Tulane (11-15, 3-11) may be bringing up the rear in the AAC standings, they're certainly capable of beating anyone. Among their wins include an early-season victory against Cincinnati and they're coming off a win against SMU.

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Following Friday's practice, Brian Murphy and myself had the opportunity to catch up with Johnny Dawkins. Here are the key highlights from the interview (video above):

-Dawkins said the Friday practice was "spirited." Thought they had a great attitude. The team charter coming home from Cincinnati had a mechanical issue so they had to spend pretty much all night (wee hours of Thursday morning) in the CVG airport.

-On what he told the players afterward:

"We understanding it's a good win for us, but it's one win. We have to continue to stay focused and we have to try to finish out each of these games the best we can. We have a good Tulane team coming in here. They had a good win the other night vs. SMU. We know it'll be very competition."

-Asked about what he hopes the team learns from the Cincinnati game, Dawkins said it was a complete game on both sides of the ball.

"I thought at times we really guarded well. They hit some tough, tough shots. Give them credit. They're a really good team. I thought offensively we moved the ball. We got good penetration and got into the paint. The things we want to do, I thought we did that as good as we've done it all season long."

-More on being aggressive offensively, pointing out Brandon Mahan's performance:

"That's part of our offense. It's good to see him step up in that type of role. He's capable of getting to the basket and making plays. It was good to see him do it consistently the other night. That really helped our team."

-Tony Johnson Jr. had six steals vs. UC. Dawkins said he's "aggressive on the ball" with quickness and anticipation. Said it's been fun watching him grown. When he arrived, his defensive ability was minimal.

"I don't think he could defend when he started," Dawkins said while laughing. "I think he now has a good understanding. He's grasped our concepts and how we guard. It's fun seeing his development. Give him a lot of credit. He's really worked hard at it. He wants to be an elite defender. He's capable of being that which you saw the other night."

-I asked what a game like that could do for Tony Johnson's development going forward:

"It's good for him to see a game like that. Then he sees what's possible, his ability to create plays for himself and others. His ability to shoot the basketball. I think you saw those things on display the other night. We know he's capable of doing that. I know from my playing days, that gives you a lot of confidence moving forward."

-I asked whether that was Brandon Mahan's best game:

"I think it was, especially considering the environment we were in. The situation we were in. Definitely needed the game. For him to go in there and perform that way, he really stepped up for us."

-Dawkins wants to see consistency from Mahan going forward.

"When he's like he was the other night, he's as good as anybody playing college basketball. We think that highly of him. Now we need to find the consistency."

-Dazon Ingram is still somewhat sick though he practiced on Friday. If he's cleared, he'll play tomorrow.

-I asked Dawkins about the proposed new transfer rule, allowing players to be eligible immediately:

"I haven't really studied it one way or the other. My comment on it would be something that isn't well informed right now. My gut feeling, watching all the players transferring and where they are, I'm in the wanting to develop young people business. I want to be able to work with young people, help them grow and develop. I like to keep them as long as I can because I know it's bigger than basketball.

"For me, I want to see the guys with me as long as I can because sometimes adversity is not a bad thing. Sometimes you go through adversity and it helps you grow in areas that you may not see now as a basketball player. I think we lose that impact if we allow kids to just (leave) whenever. It's hard for us to develop. I'm thinking more of a teacher and mentor. Like I said, I haven't studied it to have a full fledged, informed comment on it."

-Tulane has experience and "old players that know how to play." Dawkins pointed out their wins have come against some of the better teams in the league: Cincinnati, SMU and Temple.



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