ORLANDO, Fla. — UCF finally got Alabama. In basketball.
But football was not exactly an afterthought during the men’s hoops game Thursday night. One fan in the student section held up a sign that read, “Was your football team too scared to show up,” while many others wore leis in support of injured starting quarterback McKenzie Milton.
Sure, getting defending champion Alabama and self-proclaimed national champion UCF on a football field would draw vastly more national attention. And the “We Want Bama!” signs are a standard feature at UCF football games.
You knew there would be some football trash talk at the Alabama-UCF men’s basketball game .
But any victory over Alabama will do, and the Knights were plenty pleased with their 70-64 win.
Yes, the margin was a touchdown.
“It’s a great win for us, good win for our program, a really good résumé-building win as we move closer toward March,” UCF guard B.J. Taylor said. “A lot of people have wanted Bama, and we got them in basketball so we’re pretty happy about that, now we just need to get them in football.”
UCF basketball has a bit of a streak going over Alabama basketball. Last season, UCF played then-No. 24 Alabama for the first time since 1994 and posted its first road victory over a ranked opponent in school history.
“It’s a good win for us, a quality win against a quality team,” coach Johnny Dawkins said. “Those things will help us more so internally having success against a team like that as we go forward, I think will continue to build on our guys’ confidence as we go out and compete.”
As the Knights (6-1) closed out the victory, one fan in the raucous student section yelled out, “I can see why they call you guys a football school!”
UCF has drawn more headlines for its football program, too. The Knights were the only undefeated team in college football last season, prompting UCF athletic director Danny White to self-proclaim them national champions. Trash talk between the two schools ensued, and so did a little Twitter back-and-forth between them in March, when the Alabama women’s basketball team defeated UCF in the NIT.
Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne took to social media to say, “Great win today over UCF for @AlabamaWBB! We’re not ready to make it more than it was and schedule a Disney Parade…but we’ll definitely take it.
That prompted White to respond: “Our policy has been to schedule Disney parades when we win New Year’s Day bowl games. We’ve won 2 in the last 5 years. The most recent in 2017 when we were the only undefeated team in America, & National Champions. If y’all wanna have a parade for WNIT wins – more power to ya!”
Even the NCAA March Madness Twitter feed got in on the “We Want Bama” mantra.
The Bama-UCF battle everyone’s been waiting for 😏
It’s going down in Orlando tonight 🔥 pic.twitter.com/rNPo9C0vA0
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) November 29, 2018
But much of the potential trash talk between the programs took on a more subdued air during the actual game, possibly because Milton remains hospitalized with a severe knee injury. Watching their star player go down has taken the emphasis off arguing about the College Football Playoff and turned attention to dedicating the rest of the season to the Hawaii native.
That’s why so many fans wore leis to the game. UCF plans to distribute 40,000 leis to fans attending the American Athletic Conference championship game Saturday against visiting Memphis.
Taylor, who was injured in the season opener a year ago and missed 16 games, is close friends with Milton, a huge basketball fan. The two spoke over the weekend, and Taylor planned to fill Milton in on the big win Thursday night.
“The basketball team’s behind him, I’m behind him,” Taylor said. “The biggest thing is keeping him in good spirits. I’m doing everything I can on the basketball court for him this year. I’m dedicating a lot of the season to him because it’s not just about the football team. UCF’s a whole family.”
As he spoke, teammate Aubrey Dawkins nodded. Dawkins missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, and center Tacko Fall missed the final 14 games of last season with a shoulder injury of his own.
“Just talk to the guys on our team,” Taylor said. “Just can’t take any day for granted. I’m doing a lot of this for him this season.”