-- Obviously, the most important numbers on the Pressly Stadium scoreboard Friday night were the ones lighting up a 1-0 Florida victory over UCF in second-round play of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament.
But the digits at the bottom of the board also were pretty significant in the eighth-ranked Gators advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008.
Shots: UF 14, UCF 1.
Let’s flush those digits out some more.
In last week’s first-round defeat of Florida Gulf Coast, a 2-0 victory, the Gators allowed zero shots. None. Zippo.
Make that two NCAA wins and just one shot by the opponent.
Can someone say “defense?”
UF coach Becky Burleigh was more than happy to say it and talk about it.
“It really has come a long way,” Burleigh said. “It’s a whole team effort for us. When people think of our defense they think of our back line and our goalkeeper, but it’s a team effort. And a big part of it comes with us keeping the ball. When we have the ball, they don’t -- and that’s the best defense you can have.”
The Gators (19-4-2) had a possession party against the Knights (17-5-2), the four-time champions of Conference USA. They came in with statistically one of the best defenses in the country, but on this night, UF out-UCFed UCF.
“That was a pretty dominant game by Florida, possession-wise,” Knights coach Amanda Cromwell said.
She should know.
The Knights began the night ranked third nationally in goals-against average and fourth in shutout percentage, having blanked seven straight opponents before advance past Miami on penalty kicks in last weekend’s opening-round action.
UCF keeper Lianne Maldonado, with 15 shutouts this season, had another outstanding game, but she couldn’t stop a textbook give-and-go play from Taylor Travis to Erika Tymrak and back to Travis, who bumped the game’s lone goal past a diving Maldonado in the 60th minute.
“I haven’t seen it on video yet, but from what it looked like on the field, it was a thing of beauty,” Burleigh said.
Sort of like her offense that was thorough with its ball control and her defense that UCF’s coach three times described using some form of the verb “smother.”
And sort of like her’s team maturity, given the near-identical circumstances to a year ago.
In 2011, UCF took down the Gators, the region’s No. 2 seed, on their home field, putting a bitter end to the season. So here came the Knights again with everything on the line. Yet, despite 20 returning players from last year’s roster, there were next to no mentions of revenge from any of the UF women heading into the match.
“That’s emotion,” Burleigh said. “This team thrives on composure.”
“This is a just a totally different team. This year’s team is more about a belief in what we’re doing,” senior midfielder Holly King said. “We were extremely confident going into this game and we’ll be extremely confident going into the next game.”
That would be Sunday against Notre Dame (15-5-2) with a berth in the Elite Eight on the line.
“We hadn’t gotten past this round our whole careers,” senior center back Kathryn Williamson. “This is a huge step for our senior class, for us as a team. I think we’re going to fight and keep on going.”
They have a shot, for sure.
Especially when they’re not giving any up.
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