Updated:ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) (AP)
UCF expected its first season in the new American Athletic Conference to bring an instant upgrade in competition and a new set of challenges.
Six games into its league schedule it's clear that those assumptions were spot on.
The Knights (9-8, 1-5) have lost four straight, claiming their lone AAC win in a two-point victory over Temple on Jan. 4.
They return to action Wednesday night with another tough assignment against No. 22 Memphis (15-4, 5-2), a former Conference USA rival that comes in winners of its last three since losing at home to Connecticut.
"We're focused. Nobody likes to lose. Across the country, you see (North) Carolina, Oregon -- a lot of teams that have got great players that are not winning. That's just part of the game," UCF coach Donnie Jones said. "It's a hurdle race the whole season and when you lose some games you just gotta try to win that next one."
UCF has played several close games with the Tigers, but posted only one victory in their 15 previous meetings.
Despite losing by an average of 19.5 points per game during its current four-game skid, Jones said he's been encouraged by what he's seen in stretches from his team. He said it's just been a run in each game that they haven't been able to overcome.
Senior forward Tristan Spurlock was a sophomore for the Knights' win in 2012 and said games between the schools have usually left both teams "bruised up" and that he's expecting "a grind" this time around as well.
"We just gotta keep coming in and playing hard," he said. "It's not an easy league at all. Everybody's good. Nobody cares if you lose. Everybody's beating up on everybody right now. So right now you just gotta come in and everyday work hard."
Spurlock, was out of the starting lineup for the first time this season during the Knights' 69-51 loss at Cincinnati last week.
Another starter who came off the bench in that game was senior guard Calvin Newell. Newell, the team's second leading scorer didn't play in its Jan. 15 loss at Rutgers and hasn't started the past three games.
Asked if either move was a wakeup call for either player, Jones said he has been happy with his team's focus and attitude that the moves were more about establishing some chemistry for a team whose field goal percentage has dipped to just 37 percent in conference play.
"We're trying to look for a chemistry-flow out there that we feel plays well together. And obviously with energy coming off the bench, maybe some scoring off the bench, it maybe takes some pressure off Tristan and (forward) Kasey (Wilson) a little bit," Jones said. "They've been pressing really hard and just haven't really had some shots go down."
Senior and leading-scorer Isaiah Sykes said the conversations inside the Knights locker room this week have been productive in getting everyone on the same page.
"The last couple of practices have been very beneficial to us," Sykes said. "We went over a lot. We went over the primary principles of what we're trying to do. I think the team is finally starting to understand, and we've been executing a lot better the last couple of practices."
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