BOGACZYK: Herd's Akers Hoping to Make a Point
The Word on the Herd-March 3, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - All season long for a resurgent Marshall women's basketball program, it's been about what's happened on those floors that measure 94 by 50 feet.
Suddenly, it's more about Akers.
McKenzie Akers has been a point guard before. But not like this. Not here. Not now.
As Marshall is trying to find a spot in March Madness, Akers is being asked to assume more floor leadership for the Thundering Herd. The sophomore guard's playmaking teammate, Norrisha Victrum, is a three-year starter at the point for Coach Matt Daniel.
But Victrum's right knee injury is expected to keep her out of this week's regular season-finishing Henderson Center games against Old Dominion and Charlotte - and perhaps into next week's Conference USA Tournament.
Into the void steps the 20-year-old Akers, who has usually been a two-guard off the bench and a player known for her 3-point shooting for the Herd (16-11, 8-8). She hasn't been a regular point guard starter since she led Princeton Senior High to the 2013 West Virginia Class AAA State Tournament as a senior.
Akers got the point guard start in a recent Marshall win over UAB when Victrum was serving a one-game team suspension, and again last Saturday in a loss at Florida Atlantic when the junior starter sat after being injured 48 hours earlier in a win at FIU.
"I'm not going to completely change my game," the 5-foot-5 Akers said after the Herd's practice Tuesday. "I still play hard and try to do what it takes to win, just like I've done at the two-guard, but I feel like it's two different positions.
"At two-guard I'm supposed to shoot -- every open look, take it -- and obviously take care of the ball. At the point, I'm supposed to take care of it even more. The ball will be in my hands more often than it is at two-guard, and I also need to get the team organized and be the leader.
"It's a lot different, but it's the same in that it's about being competitive and trying to win."
Victrum's injury and Akers' lineup move makes Daniel's bench even shorter at a crucial time of the season. The improved Herd is hopeful of reaching a postseason tournament after being picked to finish last in C-USA for a third straight season, and Daniel isn't ready to panic by any means.
"I'm not looking for McKenzie's game to change," the Marshall coach said. "I'm just looking for her to be the solid person that she is. I think her ability to be solid really helps us on the floor, too, at a time of the year that can be sporadic, be erratic. She's a constant, and I think her demeanor can help us.
"She replaced `ReRe' (Victrum) against UAB, played 40 minutes and we won. Now, it's one thing to do it one game; it's another to do it over a period of time. On the flip side, we lost Norrisha against FIU and sustained it, but we didn't play very well against FAU.
"So, it will be a little bit interesting. That's not all on McKenzie but she's certainly counted on to give us the solid demeanor and solid effort that she was recruited here to provide. I do think the ball will move more, because I think ReRe is kind of a score-first point guard, and McKenzie is kind of pass-first, and then look for open shots."
Akers is averaging 6.0 points per game, but has only 18 assists in her 25 appearances. Victrum is averaging 10.4 points and 3.5 assists per game. And although the Herd rolled past ODU, 69-37, in early January in Norfolk, Va., the Monarchs (17-10, 10-6) come to "The Cam" on Thursday night in fourth place in C-USA.
Akers knows that she's going to get plenty of attention from Old Dominion and then on Saturday afternoon from Charlotte (13-15, 9-7) on the Herd's Senior Day for starters Chukwuka Ezeigbo, AJ Johnson and Aja Sorrells.
"The main thing I have to remember is just to be solid in there," Akers said. "It all starts from me, all the way down the list. If I'm not with it and know what's going on, then everybody else isn't going to be there as well. It starts from me, from the point guard.
"You don't want to have it (the opportunity) like this, not at all. ReRe is an awesome point guard. We're where we are because of what she's done. She makes us a better team, but adversity happens sometimes when you're a good player and you play hard -- and that's her. Really, I think it's a privilege for me for Coach to rely on me and I feel like he's confident enough in me to lead with me."
Akers is averaging 20.9 minutes per game this season, but in her last three outings has played 40, 27 and 38 minutes - three of her four longest stints this season. She understands that she may not be able to play with her usual constant-bounce style, but at the same time doesn't want diminished returns.
"I try my best to pace myself, but I'm kind of a 100 percent all-the-time sort of player," Akers said. "I guess walking up the ball occasionally or giving the ball to Leah (Scott, the Herd's leading scorer) to bring it up the floor helps a little bit. But I'm still going to try to play hard while containing myself as best I can.
"I know they're going to be all over me. They'll know our point guard is out, and they're going to try to make me mess up. I've got to try to be solid, no matter what, and taking care of the ball is really where my mindset is. It's different.
"I've got to take care of it to make everything work, for us to get shots, for us to get things going."