March 11, 2002

SCU Ready to Stage a Big Arrival

March 11, 2002

By Mark Gomez
San Jose Mercury News

Gisette Denker, wife of Santa Clara women's basketball Coach Chris Denker, is scheduled to deliver the couple's first child Thursday.

But on Sunday the expectant mother's focus was on her hospital accommodations, not on the upcoming Caesarean section delivery.

``My hospital room better have ESPN2,'' Gisette Denker said with a grin.

The Denker household is buzzing with excitement, and for good reason. The Denkers are expecting their first child, and the Broncos are officially part of March Madness. Santa Clara (21-9) received a berth to the NCAA tournament -- the No. 11 seed in the West Regional -- and open Friday against No. 6 seed Louisiana State in Boulder, Colo. The game will be televised by ESPN2.

``It's going to be wild,'' said Chris Denker, the Broncos' second-year coach. ``I'm leaving Thursday afternoon or evening, after everything gets settled and she's OK.

``It's as hard on her as on anybody, because she's our biggest fan. She absolutely loves these girls. It's going to drive her crazy. Every play, she's just into it.''

Players and coaches gathered at the Denkers' home in Santa Clara on Sunday and watched the selection show. As each region was announced and Santa Clara remained absent from the field of 64, the stress mounted -- especially in light of the Broncos narrowly missing the cut last season.

But when Santa Clara's name flashed on the screen -- the Broncos were among the last announced -- the players leaped from their seats and screamed in excitement. It is the Broncos' first NCAA appearance since the 1998-99 season.

Denker was confident his team would make the cut. It finished second in the West Coast Conference during the regular season and reached the WCC tournament final. He conceded that getting past the first round of the conference tournament -- the Broncos' first-round exit last year probably cost them a bid -- was big.

``This year we felt pretty good about our chances, but still we had to wait until the last region,'' said senior guard Becki Ashbaugh, who was a freshman on Santa Clara's last NCAA tournament qualifier. ``It was a little stressful, but it feels good to get in.''

But the Broncos aren't satisfied just to be back in the Big Dance. They want a victory. They want to be the first SCU team to win an NCAA tournament game since the field expanded to 64 in 1994. (Santa Clara's last NCAA tournament win was in 1992, a 73-71 victory over Cal).

``Winning a game in the tournament would be special for us,'' Denker said.

LSU (17-11) will provide a tremendous hurdle. The Lady Tigers defeated perennial power Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference semifinals, costing the Volunteers a No. 1 seed. LSU lost to Vanderbilt -- the No. 1 seed in the Midwest -- in the SEC title game.

Denker said LSU is a quick, athletic team, sparked by sophomore point guard Temeka Johnson, who is averaging 11 points and 7.5 assists this season.

``They're really playing hot,'' Denker said. ``They did the same thing last year. They got hot in the SEC tournament and carried it into NCAAs.''

But Denker also believes his team is turning it on at the right time, having won eight of its past 12 games (Santa Clara lost to Pepperdine 81-77 in the WCC championship game).

``We feel like we're starting to play pretty good, kind of hitting our stride,'' he said.