Patrick Giblin

Pacific students cheer on the Tigers during the battle against the Florida Gators on Dec. 9, 2011.

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Tigers Make It Four Straight With 78-73 Win Over Florida

Dec 9, 2011

Erica McKenzie was on fire from deep the entire game, and Kendall Rodriguez unleashed seven points in the final 29 seconds as the Pacific women's basketball team held on for a 78-73 win over Florida Friday night at the Alex G. Spanos Center.

Florida's height gave the Tigers issues, as the Gators recorded 33 offensive rebounds and blocked nine shots. But Pacific (4-3) emerged with its fourth-straight victory by connecting on shots over the Gators' height, draining 11 of 16 three-point attempts.

McKenzie connected on seven of eight three-point attempts, as the junior guard finished with a season-high 23 points, while Rodriguez, the junior forward added 19 with six rebounds and six steals.

Junior guard Ashley Wakefield recorded her second double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds to go with three steals, while sophomore guard Gena Johnson chipped in nine points with three steals and three blocks.

The Tigers turned Florida over 22 times and hit 15-of-17 free throws to overcome a 52-35 rebounding advantage for the Gators.

Florida falls to 7-3, with their other two losses coming to current No. 11 Rutgers, and a 9-1 Michigan team that leads the Big Ten and sits 26th in votes in both polls.

The Tigers defense forced four turnovers on Florida's first four, McKenzie drained a pair of three-pointers as the Tigers hit six of their first 11 shots, forced seven turnovers and held Florida to 17 percent shooting in the early going, building a 19-9 lead.

Florida worked their way back with six free throws, but McKenzie connected for two more three-pointers as the Tigers held a 27-19 advantage. The Gators used a 6-0 run to pull within two before Sam Pettinger's lay-up restored a two-possession cushion.

Wakefield added a lay-up in the paint, but Florida's Ndidi Madu hit a jumper and after a turnover, Jordan Jones hit a three-pointer to give the Gators the lead at 32-31.

Thompson muscled inside for a basket to regain the lead and then grabbed a rebound on the next possession. Wakefield drove to the rim and got to the free throw line, and then Rodriguez finished an and-one for a 38-32 Pacific lead. Ashley Smith rounded out the scoring in the first half, picking up a steal, getting fouled and hitting two free throws.

The Tigers took the 40-32 lead into the break, shooting 40 percent in the first half. Florida shot 39 percent, but committed 15 first-half turnovers. The Tigers scored 16 points off Florida miscues.

In the second half, the Gators opened with a basket, but McKenzie hit her fifth-straight three-pointer.

Florida narrowed its deficit to four on Jennifer George's jumper, McKenzie hit yet another three-pointer to put the Tigers up seven at 48-41.  

Pacific stretched the lead back to double-digits at 54-43 on an and-one from Johnson and a three-pointer from Wakefield.  But the Tigers couldn't pull away, as the Gators' hit back-to-back midrange jumpers and then after a turnover, picked up a pair of free throws as part of a 9-0 run to cut the Tigers' lead to 58-57 with 5:57 to go.

But again, McKenzie struck from deep, as she hit her first five attempts from long-range, the fifth giving Pacific a four-point lead. Florida answered with four-straight points, as Jennifer George tallied inside to tie the game at 61-61. Johnson drove to the hoop for two, but Sacramento native Brittany Shine hit a pair of free throws to knot the game at 63-63 with 4:30 remaining.

Then it was Rodriguez's turn to hit from long-range, knocking down a three-pointer 15 seconds later to give the Tigers the lead for good, at 66-63.

Azania Stewart and McKenzie traded buckets, but the Gators would get no closer as Johnson recorded a steal and Wakefield hit a jumper for a five-point lead with 2:05 to play.

Each team came up empty on its' next possession, and Johnson swatted away an attempt by Lanita Bartley, but the Gators cut the margin to three on a jumper from Madu with 55 seconds left.

But on Pacific's next possession, Rodriguez delivered the dagger, a three-pointer that rattled home for a six-point lead and after an and-one from Florida's Jaterra Bonds, Rodriguez closed the game from the free throw line with four straight from the stripe for a seven-point edge.

Bonds added a jumper with three seconds left for the 78-73 final score, but the Tigers inbounded the ball and McKenzie chucked it towards the rafters to kill the clock, while the Pacific faithful at the Spanos Center cheer on the Tigers' first win over a team from the SEC with a rowdy chorus of "U-O-P."

McKenzie, the reigning Big West Player of the Week, hit four of her last five three-point attempts in the final 17:11 in the Tigers win at Nevada, and hit five of her first five from behind the arc in the first 21:28 against the Gators.

The Gators were led by George's 14 points and 14 rebounds, while Bonds added 13 points. Stewart blocked six shots and grabbed 10 rebounds while Bartley (11) and Jones (10) each hit double-figures in scoring.

Pacific will visit San Diego on Sunday at 2 p.m., taking on Toreros squad which advanced to the WCC final last season.

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