Anaheim, Calif. – Senior Erica McKenzie's three-pointer with seven seconds left broke a 51-51 tie and lifted the Pacific women's basketball team to victory over Cal State Fullerton Friday at the Big West Tournament at the Honda Center.
The win gave the top-seeded Tigers (25-6) a berth in the tournament's championship game tomorrow at 1 p.m. They will meet second-seeded Cal Poly, who defeated UC Santa Barbara, 62-43, in the day's other semifinal showdown. CSUF (10-22) saw their season come to a close with the loss.
McKenzie led all scorers with 25 points as she connected on 5-of-7 shots from beyond the arc. She made and took only one three-pointer in the second half, which happened to be the game-winner. Senior Kendall Rodriguez was the only other Pacific player in double figures with 14 points.
Pacific led by three, 47-44, after McKenzie made one of two free throws with 3:37 left to play. Kathleen Iwuoha brought the Titans to within one, 47-46, on a baseline jumper one minute later, but Johnson answered with a lay-up on the Tigers' next possession. After a CSUF turnover, junior Sam Pettinger's running jumper was off the mark, but Kenyon corralled the missed shot and gave Pacific another possession with 1:25 on the clock.
With 55 seconds left, McKenzie drove right and got all the way to the basket, drawing a foul in the process. She calmly drained both free throws to give the Tigers a five-point lead, 51-46. Cal State Fullerton would get a pair of three-point shots off on its next trip down the court before Annie Park made a jumper from the right elbow with 29 seconds on the clock, prompting the Titans to take their last timeout.
On the ensuing inbounds play, there was a scramble that saw Pettinger lose the ball as Tailer Butler came up with the steal for the Titans. Mya Olivier then hit a straightaway trey to tie the game at 51-51 with 16 seconds left. Without using their last time out, the Tigers advanced the ball as Johnson found McKenzie on the wing. McKenzie took one dribble to her left as Johnson got her open with a screen, and the space proved to be enough as McKenzie coolly drained a deep three with just seven ticks left.
Instead of looking for a potential game-tying three-pointer, Cal State Fullerton's Chante Miles inexplicably drove into the paint and took a running jumper that rimmed out as time expired.
Iwuoha finished with a double double for the Titans, notching 15 points and 13 rebounds. Miles chipped in 10 points while Olivier added eight points and seven boards.
Pacific twice led by as many as 10 points in the first half, but CSUF scored 14 of the final 22 points in the half as the Tigers led by just four, 25-21, at the break.
The Tigers were unable to pull away from the Titans in the second half despite a number of opportunities. Pacific led by five, 36-31, with 13:23 on the clock, and by seven, 46-39, at the 5:40 mark, only to see both leads wiped away.
Neither team shot well from the field as Cal State Fullerton made 35-percent of its shots while Pacific shot 32-percent from the field. The Tigers connected on 47-percent of its three-point tries, however, while the Titans made just two of their 13 three-point attempts, good for 15-percent.
Pacific outrebounded Cal State Fullerton by one, 38-37, but grabbed three fewer offensive rebounds, 23-20, as the Titans had 13 second-chance points to the Tigers' seven. Pacific committed 19 turnovers, 10 coming in the first half, while CSUF gave the ball away 18 times.
Tomorrow's game marks the fifth appearance for Pacific in the Big West Tournament's championship game. The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Prime Ticket.