February 25, 2006

Santa Clara Clinches Conference Title With Wild 77-74 Win

Feb. 25, 2006

Final Stats

MALIBU, Calif. - Needing a win to clinch the No. 1 seed in next week's West Coast Conference Tournament, the Santa Clara Broncos held off a furious Pepperdine rally in the final minutes to capture a share of the WCC regular-season title and the top seed with a 77-74 victory Saturday afternoon at Firestone Fieldhouse.

"I thought we really kept our composure, to tell the truth," Head coach Michelle Bento-Jackson said following the victory. "Even at the end we knew it would come down to defensive stops, I thought we had some huge defensive rebounds and Chandice [Cronk]'s free throws were big. We found a way to win the ball game."

With the regular season now in the books and the seedings finalized, the Broncos will now take on the Portland Pilots Thursday, March 2 in the first round of the WCC Tournament in Spokane, Wash. Tip-off for Thursday's contest will be determined next week.

"I wouldn't say our road [in the conference tournament] will be easy, we are smart enough to know that in our conference anybody can beat anybody," Bento-Jackson commented about Santa Clara's road to a second-consecutive WCC Tournament title. "This is a whole new season, we don't take anybody for granted, we know we just have to focus on ourselves and play the best basketball that we can play."

On the strength of holding the tiebreaker of Gonzaga, which also concluded the regular season at 11-3, Santa Clara clinches its first WCC regular-season title since the 1998-99 season.

Tracey Walker led the Broncos (17-10, 11-3 WCC) with her first-career double-double performance, scoring 11 points and grabbing a career-high 12 rebounds. Four more Broncos turned in double-figure scoring performances, as Michelle Cozad led all SCU scorers with 14 points, Kasey Monteith had 12 and Kayla Huss added 10.

The Waves (11-16, 8-6 WCC) augmented their lead to 10 at 22-12 as Shannon Johnson buried two baseline jumpers in a row, forcing Bento-Jackson to call timeout and rally the troops.

The Broncos responded to the timeout with a 10-0 run that knotted things up at 22-apiece. Tight defense and five points from Tracey Walker highlighted the SCU run.

At this point the contest turned into a wildly-entertaining version of tit-for-tat as the Broncos and Waves combined to exchange the lead seven times in the next four minutes. Neither team led by more than three until

Santa Clara got off to a quick 8-2 lead as Monteith accounted for six of those early points. But the Waves rolled back into the game with a 14-2 run over the next five minutes to go up by six. a Huss three-pointer put the Broncos up 36-32 with 4:41 left in the half.

After a pair of Pepperdine free throws cut the lead to two the next time down, Santa Clara took advantage of Waves mistakes to outscore them 12-6 the rest of the half, allowing SCU to head into the break leading 48-40.

Both teams stayed relatively even in the first minutes of the second half. While the Waves cut the lead down to five early, an Anna Martin drive followed by two Cozad free throws in the ensuing two possessions put the Broncos back in control at 57-48. Moments later forward Ashley Gonnerman drained a three to bring the Santa Clara lead to 12 at 60-48.

The SCU advantage got all the way to 67-50 with just under 13 minutes to go as the Broncos continued to stunt any Pepperdine attempt to creep back into the game. The Waves managed to trim things to eight with 7:46 remaining, but lay-ups from Huss and Chandice Cronk gave SCU a double-digit cushion once again at 73-61 with just under six minutes to play.

Still, the Waves persisted and with 2:24 remaining it was a two-possession game at 75-69 Santa Clara. A Daphanie Kenneday steal led to a foul and Kennedy converted one of the bonus shots to make it a five-point contest.

One possession later, two more Kennedy free throws made it 75-72 Broncos with 1:02 remaining. An offensive foul on Santa Clara gave Pepperdine possession with 35.5 seconds left, at which the Waves called timeout.

With a five-second differential between the shot clock and game clock, the Waves opted for two as Kennedy drove for a lay-up the brought things to one with 28.7 seconds to play. Chandice Cronk was fouled immediately after the in-bound pass, and in the face of a fired-up crowd sank both shots to put the Broncos back on top by three.

A missed free throw on the SCU end led to a wild melee in the final twenty seconds as the Waves had about three chances to convert, capped by a Johnson attempt from the top of the arc which fell short as time expired.

The Broncos will now return to action Thursday at a time to be determined to face Portland in the WCC Tournament's opening round.