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Upset of blue blood Kansas elevates UCF’s profile in red-hot Big 12

UCF’s new quarterback KJ Jefferson is already part of big things going on with UCF athletics.

The former Arkansas star and latest addition to the UCF football team was at Addition Financial Arena on Wednesday night, amid the fans who stormed the court after the Knights upset No. 3 Kansas 65-60.

“I actually ran out there as well,” Jefferson said. “It was a great atmosphere. It was my first time being in Orlando and my first time at a basketball event [at UCF] and for the basketball team to come out and get a big victory over Kansas was big-time .. the atmosphere was great, I loved it and I can’t wait for football season.”

Football coach Gus Malzahn also was in attendance, and he praised the basketball Knights (10-4, 1-1 Big 12) for their accomplishment.

“I just want to congratulate Coach [Johnny] Dawkins and our basketball team,” Malzahn said at a press conference to introduce new quarterback KJ Jefferson. “It was an unbelievable win, unbelievable atmosphere. One of the biggest games in school history on our campus and they seized the moment, so that was a real special thing.”

Dawkins was captured on video by the UCF media crew, showing how incredibly excited he was after the huge win. Kansas is the highest ranked team UCF has ever defeated, dating to a 2011 victory over No. 4 UConn, 68-63, in the Battle of Atlantis Tournament at Paradise Island, Bahamas.

The Jayhawks won the national championship in 2022 and are among this season’s favorites, too.

The UCF fans on Wednesday night were raucous, 9,469 strong, and they lifted the Knights’ energy. No one could remember a night when a UCF crowd stormed the court the way it did after this triumph.

“You want to enjoy it. … You want to be in moments like this and you want our students to be in moments like this, I mean, how good were they?” Dawkins said. “They stormed the court and so I was having fun with them and they were having fun with me and that’s what you want. … We all had experiences tonight that they will remember for the rest of their life.

“When they come back for their fifth, 10th, 20th alumni reunion, they’re going to remember being in this arena and having an experience like this against a storied program.”

The Knights were scrappy, diving on the floor for loose balls, coming up with steals and causing 18 turnovers by the Jayhawks. They could have hung their heads after a 77-52 road loss in their Big 12 debut Saturday night at Kansas State.

But they did not.

“We come off a game where it was a tough road loss,” Dawkins said, “and we come back home against Kansas, a great program, a Hall of Fame coach [Bill Self], and I feel our guys responded great.”

The now, however, is to enjoy this moment but not let it linger. The Knights must regroup and bottle this energy shown against Kansas and figure out how to consistently release it against the rest of a tough Big 12 schedule. Six Big 12 teams are in this week’s AP Top 25, and two other teams are receiving votes. UCF faces No. 18 BYU at Addition Financial Arena on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Dawkins and his players believed they have arrived and can compete with anyone in the Big 12.

“We realize that we’ve played two Big 12 games and we have 16 more to go and they’re all going to be just like this,” Dawkins said of his team, which was picked to finish last in the 14-team conference. “There are no nights off, every team is very, very good and we have to prepare the right way. If we don’t feel we belong, then we’re in the wrong conference.

“I want our guys to understand and feed off that energy. That’s why I start saying, ‘We belong.’ … I’m sure they’re hearing all different types of messages, where we’re projected and all these things in the conference. I want to make sure I fight that with the positive energy.”

Said Darius Johnson, who scored 17 points against Kansas and knocked down key 3-pointers in critical moments: “Obviously we’re super excited, but we’re not shocked. We always know we can be able to compete at a high level. Moving forward we need to continue to work hard and continue to practice at a high level.”

Chris Hays covers high school and college football and college football recruiting. You can find him on X @OC_ChrisHays and on Instagram @OS_ChrisHays. He can be reached vis email at chays@orlandosentinel.com.