Feb. 22, 2006
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - With 12 of 14 conference games in the books, it comes down to the final weekend of the season as the first-place Santa Clara women's basketball team takes its nine-game winning streak and one-game conference lead to Southern California. Thursday night the Broncos (16-9, 10-2 WCC) battle the second-place Loyola Marymount Lions (15-10, 9-3 WCC) before heading to Malibu to finish the regular season with a Saturday afternoon match-up with the Pepperdine Waves (10-15, 7-5 WCC).
Santa Clara holds a one-game edge over the Lions and the Gonzaga Bulldogs, and a victory Thursday night would eliminate the Lions from title contention. A win over the Lions coupled with a loss by the Bulldogs at San Diego would clinch Santa Clara's first outright regular-season title since 1997-98.
In the case that two or perhaps all three teams tie for the top record after the weekend, the first tie breaker is head-to-head competition. If that still does not resolve the deadlock, it goes to the teams' records against the other WCC schools in descending order of rank, meaning they match the team's marks against the third-place WCC school, then fourth-place, and so on. If that remains tied, then the team with the best RPI is named regular-season champion and No. 1 seed in the WCC Tournament.
The Broncos, however, are careful not to focus too much on the technicalities of the standings. This weekend the squad has its mind set on a single goal-- picking up two more conference wins.
"We don't get too wrapped up in the standings. We actually don't talk about them hardly at all," said head coach Michelle Bento-Jackson. "We know that, as always in our conference, it's going to come down to the conference tournament. We're just trying to play our best basketball as the season winds down."
The Broncos enter Thursday night's game riding their impressive winning streak, the longest for the program in 13 years. Last week, the Broncos bested two Bay Area rivals in three days, with a 64-62 win over Saint Mary's in Moraga on Wednesday and a 67-53 win over San Francisco on Friday night. The team enters the final weekend of conference play leading the league in scoring, three-point field goals and every shooting percentage in the books. The Broncos have the best assist-to-turnover ratio among WCC squads as well. Yet, with a win Thursday night, the team guarantees itself a share of the most coveted top spot-- the regular-season league title.
The Loyola Marymount Lions, however, are close at the Broncos heels, only recently relinquishing their hold on first place with a loss to Gonzaga on Thursday night. The battle between Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount will mark the second meeting of the season, as the Broncos bested the Lions 71-58 on Jan. 21 at the Leavey Center. In that game, Kasey Monteith stepped up for the Broncos, racking up 16 points and nine rebounds. This weekend, Santa Clara seeks to hand the Lions another loss and knock them out of title contention. Bento-Jackson and her Broncos know that LMU will not give up easily, however.
"Not only will there be a revenge factor because we did beat LMU the first time around but also the season is winding down and there is one game separation here," Bento-Jackson explained. "There's a lot at stake. There's a lot on the line. There's no secret about that. Both ball teams are fully aware of the significance of this game."
Loyola Marymount comes off of a tough weekend in the Northwest, in which they fell to the Bulldogs 53-43 and edged last place Portland, 66-58. The Lions are led by junior Amanda Patton who averages 10.7 points and 2.44 three point field goals per game. Fellow junior Ashlee Dunlap is the conference rebounding leader and averages a double-double with 10.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.
After the showdown with the Lions, Santa Clara will do battle with Pepperdine on Saturday afternoon in Malibu. The Waves defeated Portland on Thursday before dropping a contest to Gonzaga on Saturday, 55-38. In the last meeting between Santa Clara and Pepperdine, the Broncos came out on top in a close contest at the Leavey Center, 67-62. Pepperdine, while currently sitting fourth in the conference, cannot be underestimated. On Jan. 12, the Waves edged Gonzaga 59-58 in Malibu. Just two weeks ago, the squad took out conference leader Loyola Marymount on their home court, 53-47. The Waves are led by sophomore Daphanie Kennedy who averages 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game and junior Jasmane Clarendon who averages 11.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.
"We're going to approach these games the same way we have all of our games this year--to really compete for 40 minutes and give it our best effort," said Bento-Jackson. "We need to be relaxed and play with a lot of intensity and I think the rest will take care of itself."
Thursday's contest tips off at 7 p.m. in Los Angeles while Saturday's game is scheduled for a 2 p.m. start in Malibu. Post-season action at the WCC Tournament begins Mar. 2 at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane.