Nov. 16, 2005
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The Santa Clara women's basketball team will open the 2005-06 regular season this weekend with a visit to Southeastern Conference teams Georgia and Alabama. The Broncos will face the No. 10 Lady Bulldogs Friday at 4 p.m. PT before traveling to Tuscaloosa for a Monday 4 p.m. tip-off against the Crimson Tide.
The Broncos head into Athens eager to face off against one of the nation's perennial powers in Georgia on Friday. Last season the two teams met in the Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii, with the Lady Bulldogs prevailing 87-68. This season, Georgia (0-1) is coming off of a season-opening 84-72 loss to No. 5 Baylor last Sunday and provide a good opportunity for the Broncos to make an early splash in the season.
"I think that the girls are going to respond very positively, because we've been in this situation before, we've played Georgia the last two years," Head coach Michelle Bento-Jackson said about facing Georgia. "We've always done well and rose to the occasion, and we really believe that playing the top programs like [Georgia]. This is going to make us better, it will prepare us maybe for something we're going to see later in the season and we definitely feel that it is a win-win situation for us."
Santa Clara demonstrated that the hot hands that propelled them to the WCC Tournament title and to the NCAA Tournament last season are still burning as they used 14 three-pointers to tame the Sonoma State Seawolves 106-75 in an exhibition game Nov. 4 at the Leavey Center. Michelle Cozad shot 9-of-15 in the game to lead all players with 25 points, and Chandice Cronk and Kayla Huss each drained a trio of shots from behind the arc. Staying sharp from the outside will be one of the keys for the Broncos in Friday night's game.
"Georgia is obviously a very talented team and we're going to have to be on point," Bento-Jackson noted. "We're going to have to play tough defense on them, mix things up and show them different looks. On the other side of things, we're going into their home court, their guards pressure quite well so we're going to be sure to take care of the ball. Transition defense is going to be important and controlling the defensive rebounds will definitely be a key factor for us to have success in this game."
The Lady Bulldogs are led by what some analysts feel is the best backcourt in the nation in guards Cori Chambers, Sherill Baker, Alexis Kendrick and Janese Hardrick. Underneath, Tasha Humphrey, an All-SEC center, controls the boards for Georgia and shot 56% from the floor last season.
Alabama, under first-year head coach Stephany Smith, returns 10 players from last year's 14-15 squad. Among the returners are center Dee Merriweather, who averaged 6.8 rebounds per game last season, and guard Marverly Nettles, who led the Tide with 53 steals and a 41.9% success rate from behind the arc.
"With Alabama, it's a new coaching staff but the personnel is the same," Bento-Jackson commented on the Crimson Tide. "What to expect from them could be a little bit different even though we played them two years ago."
Santa Clara, having played each of these teams at least once in the past two years, can benefit from their experiences and make this SEC swing a positive start to the season. After last year's season-ending run, which included upsets of Loyola Marymount and Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament, the Broncos can use their range and speed to steal a game or two in hostile territory.
Said Bento-Jackson: "Right now we're taking it one game at a time, Friday is our first game of the year, it's a good test for us as well as a good challenge. We're going to see where we're at with things and we just have to play good basketball, there's no question about it."
Both games tip-off at 4 p.m. Pacific time and Bronco fans can follow Friday's action live with Gametracker at www.santaclarabroncos.com and live stats will be provided for Monday's game in Alabama.