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Former Raider McKenzie thriving at Pacific
by Damian Tromerhauser
Jan 15, 2012 | 897 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Down by eight points to the University of Nevada with under two minutes to play, the University of Pacific women’s basketball team turned to one of its leaders to save it from the jaws of defeat.

Playing in front of family and friends, Sparks native and former Reed standout Erica McKenzie refused to let her team down.

Launching a pair of three-pointers from well beyond NBA range, the shots found nothing but the bottom of the net as the junior guard knocked down six points in 15 seconds to kick-start the Tigers eventual overtime victory. Scoring 17 of her game-high 19 points in the second half, McKenzie was a key to the win.

“There’s not really any words to explain it,” McKenzie said. “The whole game, we just kept fighting and fighting, but nothing was really falling for us, especially for me. My shot was off. Then I just got in a zone and my teammates were looking for me, and my shots just started falling.

“That was a really special game to me because I had a ton of support there. To be able to come back to my hometown and play in front of all of my family and friends, and then on top of that for us to be able to pull off a victory and win like that, it was pretty amazing. That atmosphere was incredible.”

The clutch performance was just a glimpse of the success that McKenzie has had in her career at Pacific.

Currently ranking among the Top 5 in a number of categories within the Big West Conference, McKenzie is leaving her mark with her play. Hitting an average of 2.6 three-pointers a game, McKenzie ranks first in the conference, along with shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc (42-of-105), good enough for third in the conference. McKenzie also ranks fourth in minutes per game (32.8) and fifth in both steals per game (2.1) and scoring (13.2 points per game). In each of these categories, McKenzie holds the Pacific team-high.

This year is not the only season that McKenzie is making an impression. From the moment she stepped on the floor of the Spanos Center, she has been a force for the Tigers. She was named to the Big West All-Freshman Team after completing her first season as the second-leading scorer for the Tigers, while also accounting for nearly half of the team’s treys on the season (52). And her deadly accuracy from deep already has her ranked fifth in Pacific record books in made 3-pointers.

Now, as she enters the final half of her junior campaign, McKenzie is getting accolades for her many accomplishments. After leading the Tigers in scoring in December while hitting 15-of-32 (47 percent) from downtown and guiding her team to a 4-2 record on the month, McKenzie was given the recognition of being named Tigers’ Competitor of the Month.

“Erica embodies toughness and has the mentality of a true competitor,” Pacific coach Lynne Roberts said. “She has really worked hard this past year and we are all seeing that work ethic pay off with her tremendous play this season. She is certainly one of the big reasons as to why we are doing well as a team.”

For McKenzie, being named Tigers’ Competitor of the Month was a special moment.

“It’s a really great honor for me because to have all of the head coaches here at Pacific nominate me is just amazing,” McKenzie said. “It’s what players always dream of. It’s just awesome because all of the athletes put in work day in and day out, and to have it finally pay off, it’s an awesome feeling. I just feel really honored and thankful for that because we have awesome athletes here at Pacific, and for me to get voted, it just means a lot.”

While the time at Pacific has not always been perfect for McKenzie, she is happy with her overall experience there.

“It’s definitely had its ups and downs,” McKenzie said. “The first two years were pretty tough for me, just adjusting from high school to the college level and being around the different type of players, so it had its ups and downs. This year though, it feels like everything is falling in to place and all the hard work, all of it is finally paying off. This year has been the best and I’m having a lot of fun. There’s a lot of great people here at Pacific and everyone helps you out if you need it, so it’s been a great experience for me. I’ve definitely learned a lot.”

With the season looking up and McKenzie playing well, it helps ease the desire to be back home.

“I definitely miss playing in my hometown and having all the small town support there for you and the rivalries that we had,” McKenzie said. “Then to think about coach Sara Schopper and the awesome teammates that I had at Reed, I miss that part about it a lot. Then again, I’m making new friends and new experiences here. I’m playing on this new team that’s also awesome, so it has its benefits.”

As for the rest of this season for Pacific (9-7, 3-2), McKenzie is looking forward to making a run down the final stretch with her teammates.

“We’ve been winning, so this season is actually going really well,” McKenzie said. “We are doing better than we’ve done in any of my years since I came here. The team chemistry is just awesome. We all work hard for each other. We just have to keep working hard and just keep getting some wins. For myself, I am hoping to keep up the hard work and put us in a good spot when the tournament rolls around. This is by far the most fun year that I’ve had at Pacific.”
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