McKenzi Williams didn’t know how many points she had against Idaho on Dec. 21 until her Seattle U teammates told her: 36, a record for the women’s program at the Division I level.
“I thought I had 30,” said Williams, a redshirt junior guard from Auburn Riverside who is listed generously at 5-feet-5 and is the shortest player on the team.
Williams played 38 minutes, was 14 of 26 from the field, including 5 of 7 from three-point range, and had five rebounds, four assists and two steals with just two turnovers in a 105-96 loss.
“I was super locked in,” said Williams, who said it was the best game she ever played.
That it came less than a year after her second ACL tear in her left knee in two seasons makes it even more remarkable. She leads the Redhawks (4-5), who are scheduled to begin Western Athletic Conference play Friday, at Utah Valley, in scoring (17.9 points per game) and is second in rebounding (5.1) and assists (3.3).
“It’s a real confidence boost and I hope that people who have had similar experiences with injuries can see what I’m doing now, and say, ‘I can bounce back and I can do this too,’ ” Williams said.
But immediately after the second ACL injury in early February last year, Williams was ready to give the sport up.
“When it first happened, I was, ‘This is it, I can’t do this again,’ ” Williams said. “But I love basketball, and it’s not that easy to just give up on it. And it was worth it (to keep playing). And honestly, the first recovery was worse than the second one.”
Williams, who is closer to 5 feet 3 than her listed 5 feet 5, was a two-time South Puget Sound League MVP in high school. Father Ralph told her for years that she was good enough to play in college. He died during her junior year at Auburn Riverside, and she said it “means the world” to achieve that goal.
“(His death) made me really dedicate myself to everything, including academics and basketball, and I know I am making my family name proud,” said Williams, who said she had a 4.0 GPA last spring and is expecting to graduate with a degree in psychology this spring.
Williams does not believe the team’s record is indicative of how well the team is doing, “and our chemistry is getting better every game.”
Williams was a part-time starter as a freshman when Seattle U earned its first NCAA women’s tournament berth, and she said this team is capable of competing for a WAC title. But how many WAC games the team will play is uncertain because of the coronavirus.
Dixie State ended its season Jan. 5. Texas-Rio Grande Valley paused its program the same day. Chicago State has played one of its past nine scheduled games.
“I look every day at how many games are postponed or canceled, and today it was 10,” Seattle U coach Suzy Barcomb said last Thursday. “It’s rarely less than that. I think everybody is on pins and needles, and ‘Is this going to work?’ We want to play (the) conference, they are excited about it, and they want to move forward with it.
“But it’s going to be really interesting to see what our conference looks like. There are going to be so many unknowns. The team that can best handle the adversity and be the most flexible is the team that is going to be able to be successful.”
Barcomb has been impressed with how her team has abided by all COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines, and the team has not had any coronavirus issues. On the court, she said “we have quite a few different ways we can score, and we’ve shown that by the different people who have led us in scoring.”
The Redhawks have four players who have led the team in scoring this season, and 10 players are averaging at least 10 minutes per game.
The Redhawks’ issues have been on defense. They have allowed at least 80 points four times. Oregon had 116 points against them and Idaho had 105.
“We have to be able to lock down and be able to play much better defense,” Barcomb said.
Williams has no doubt her team will do what it takes.
“I 100 percent believe in this team’s capability to do everything that my freshman year’s team did,” Williams said, referring to the 2017-18 squad that played in the NCAA tournament. “We have all the pieces and it’s so beautiful watching everybody’s confidence and skill level. It’s just on a continuous, linear progression, and I can only imagine what we are going to look like at the end of the season.”