LAS VEGAS – Despite playing without its second-leading scorer, Santa Clara rode its two senior leaders to advance to the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals for the first time in six years.
Jared Brownridge scored a game-high 28 points, including 17 in the second half, and Nate Kratch added 16 to help the Broncos outlast San Francisco, 76-69, in one of Saturday's quarterfinal matchups in Orleans Arena.
Matt Hauser tallied 10 points and five assists, and Jarvis Pugh came off the bench to scored 12 for fourth-seeded Santa Clara (17-15), which forced the Dons into 19 turnovers.
Senior Ronnie Boyce came off the bench to score a career-high 33 points, including 26 after halftime, for the fifth-seeded Dons (20-12) who shot 50 percent from the floor in the game, but were unable to take advantage of 36-27 rebounding edge.
Brownridge and Boyce, the leading scorers for each team, went toe-to-toe in the final few minutes.
A Brownridge 3-pointer gave the Broncos a 59-52 lead with 4:33 remaining, but Boyce scored the next five.
Just more than three minutes later, Boyce cut a five-point Santa Clara lead to 64-63 with back-to-back baskets.
But on the next possession, Brownridge connected on his biggest shot of the game, nailing a 3-pointer from the right wing with time winding down on the shot clock.
Boyce, the only USF player in double figures, missed a layup and the Dons were forced to foul Pugh who hit both free throws with 30 seconds left.
The Broncos, playing without starting guard KJ Feagin (concussion), then went 7 of 8 from the free-throw line in the final 22 seconds.
Boyce scored the final 22 points for San Francisco and had all but eight of its second-half total (34).
Brownridge, who made all 11 of his free-throw attempts, tallied 12 of the final 20 points for the Broncos who will face No. 1 seed and fourth-ranked Gonzaga in one of Monday's semifinals. That game will tip off at 6 p.m. and be televised nationally on ESPN.
"I couldn't be any more proud of our team," Santa Clara head coach Herb Sendek said. "We lost KJ earlier in the week due to a concussion. He had been playing very well. These guys somehow pulled together and really executed the game plan and I thought played with a lot of heart and courage."
The Broncos got the quicker start they were looking for, jumping out to a 14-6 lead five minutes into the game, but were only to able score via three free throws for the next 10 minutes.
However, the Dons weren't able to take advantage as they could only build an eight-lead.
Pugh's dunk cut the San Francisco edge to 25-19 and the Broncos scored 12 of the final 18 points of the opening half to only trail by a basket.
Kratch scored 11 points in the opening half on 4 of 7 shooting from the floor.
The teams combined for just two field goals in the first four-plus minutes of the second half.
Brownridge's jumper with 10:18 left in the game gave the Broncos a 43-42 lead and they never trailed the rest of the way.
"I have a lot of respect for USF," Sendek said. "They've had an outstanding season. They are a really challenging team to prepare for.
Santa Clara's last appearance in the WCC semifinals occurred in 2011 when the fourth-seeded Broncos fell to No. 1 seed Saint Mary's.
Team Notes: Today's game was the 221st meeting in the series, which began in 1908. The Dons are the most common opponent for the Broncos who now lead the series, 114-107. Santa Clara and USF met in the WCC Tournament for the first time since 2008 and the Broncos improved to 7-2 in those matchups … Sendek improved to 6-1 this season against the other first-year head coaches in the WCC. The lone loss was to Kyle Smith and USF on Feb. 9 … the Broncos connected on 87 percent (20 of 23) from the free-throw line, including 12 of 13 (92.3 percent) in the second half, their third-best accuracy of the season with at least 15 attempts … Santa Clara improved to 10-3 on the year when hitting 10 or more 3-pointers and 13-3 when hitting 40 percent from behind the 3-point line … the Broncos are among the best in the WCC in sharing the basketball, entering the game with 61.2 assist percentage on made field goals. But they only had nine assists on 23 baskets (39.1 percent) against the Dons … Santa Clara boosted its record to 13-2 this season when scoring 65 or more points.
Individual Notes: Brownridge now has 2,281 career points and remains in fourth place on the all-time WCC scoring list. He trails Tyler Hawes of BYU (2,323/2012-15), who is in third place, by 42 points … Brownridge was just two points off the school's WCC Tournament single-game scoring mark. He tallied 30 points in last year's quarterfinal loss to BYU (March 5). Kyle Bailey posted the same total against San Francisco on March 6, 2004 … Brownridge was one made free throw shy of the Santa Clara single-game WCC Tournament record. John Bryant went 12-for-12 vs. San Diego on March 7, 2009 … Brownridge and Kratch each played in his 128th career game, moving into a tie for sixth on the Santa Clara all-time list with John McArthur (2010-14), Niyi Harrison (2009-13) and Ben Dowdell (2007-11) … Kai Healy made his fifth start of the season, subbing for an injured Feagin … Feagin missed his 13th game of the season due to injury. He sat out the first 12 games of the year recovering from a preseason foot injury … Hauser moved from ninth to seventh on the school's single-season assists list. He now has 159 on the year … Hasuer scored in double figures for the 18th time this season.
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