In FIU’s 66-49 victory at U.S. Century Bank Arena on Thursday night, Jerica Coley defined trouble for the UCF women.
There was no way the Knights could travel south without doing ample homework on FIU’s star point guard, who single-handedly outscored them 22-21 in their last meeting.
Through 73 career games, the reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year is already ranked seventh all time in points at FIU and led the Panthers (4-4) to a 63-49 rout of South Alabama to begin December.
“Jerica’s starting to come in the back door. … She was getting fouled when she needed to get fouled,” Panthers coach Cindy Russo said. “If you assert that much energy to stop her, you’re going to wear a whole lot of players out. That back door’s open for her all the time.”
As for thorough research, UCF didn’t allow Coley a point in the first nine minutes, but that didn’t put a damper on her contributions.
She finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists — her fourth 20-plus-point game of the season. The frustrated Knights defense paid the price, as Coley was a perfect 11 for 11 from the free-throw line.
The Knights (3-7) had Coley locked down from the first second of the game.
FIU won the tipoff and immediately turned over the ball. By halftime, the Panthers led by just five points, missing 10 shots in the paint.
“We were able to control the tempo of this game, which is very important. We’re not a real end line to end line basketball team, and they are,” Russo said. “If they get open in an open court, they’re pretty damaging.”
FIU forced the Knights to set up their offense every time and held the visitors to 31 percent (18 of 58) from the field, slowly wearing them down in the second half.
“We talked about settle down ... another two or three extra passes in our offense and execution,” Russo said. “A team that plays that high tempo, it’s hard to play [like that] all the time ... sooner or later they wear themselves out.”
A restless Knights squad opened the scoring after halftime, but a technical foul on their bench set the tone for the remainder of the game. The Panthers turned the ball over 21 times but outrebounded UCF 46-28.
“They’re unselfish,” Russo said of her team. “They go to the boards hard, and you can win a lot of ball games by rebounding.”
The back door stayed wide open for Coley.
The junior’s savvy judgment was on full display, finding Marita Davydova for a layup to increase the lead to 12 at 15:13 of the second half. She assisted her cousin, Kamika Idom, on a basket that sent the Panthers on a 10-0 run over a 4:38 span.
Idom posted a season-best 14 points off the bench with two more assists from Coley, and Davydova had 12 points and 12 rebounds for her third career double-double.