MORAGA, Calif. – Ashley Armstrong was terrific filling in for injured star Meagan Fulps, helping Santa Clara lead by as many as 15 in the first half but St. Mary's rallied on its home floor to win a spirited WCC rivalry game at McKeon Pavilion 75-70.
Armstrong scored a career-high 20 points for Santa Clara (8-15; 4-5 WCC), Lena Gipson had her fifth straight double-double and Alyssa Shoji distributed seven assists.
The Broncos led until the 5:42 mark when Jasmine Smith got free in the open court to tie it, 52-52. Smith scored all of her game-best 21 points in the second half for St. Mary's (15-10; 7-3 WCC).
The Gaels move into sole possession of second place in the WCC standings. The Broncos remain in fourth, tied with Portland, heading into Saturday's game at San Diego.
Santa Clara came out playing well, leading 15-2 when Shoji swished in a 3 at the 15:40 mark. The Broncos made 5 of their first 7 shots and 3 of 5 three-pointers to start the game.
SCU was without Fulps, who was held out after an injury versus USF Saturday. Fulps has been the team's leading scorer for most of the year, including pouring in a career-high 30 on January 15, the last time Santa Clara and St. Mary's met, a 77-68 Gael victory.
Filling the void for the Broncos was the shooting of Armstrong, Shoji and Ricki Radanovich. The trio combined to make six triples in the first half. Armstrong made three 3s on the night, one coming with 4:27 left before halftime to put SCU up 32-17.
Santa Clara led at the break 34-25.
"That first half may have been the best first half we've played this year," said Santa Clara head coach Jennifer Mountain. "Ashley gave us such a boost; she was great. But we may have run out of gas to be quite honest with you."
Shoji and Radanovich each played all 40 minutes and the Gaels methodically made a push following the intermission, sinking 4 of 5 shots to begin the half, and SMC senior forward Suzie Davis sliced the lead down to seven, 45-38, by knocking down a 3 with 13:12 to play.
Davis, a senior from Oxnard, finished with 17 points which is a new career-high.
SMC continued to apply the pressure offensively, seeing Smith score in transition to get SMC within four, 49-45. Smith made a baseline 3 on the Gaels' next possession and it was a one-point game with 9:45 left. With the Gaels leading 57-54 under four minutes to play, Armstrong's reverse layup kept things extremely tight.
"We had lost a little momentum (late in the second half)," said Armstrong. "We definitely came out focused tonight and played well together but we had a few lapses. In a close game that can be the difference."
In the closing moments SMC All-WCC senior forward Louella Tomlinson made her presence felt, making back-to-back baskets at the 2:38 and 1:51 marks to put SMC up six and force Santa Clara to foul.
Trailing by eight with 1:10 left, Shoji made two free throws then came up with a steal and Armstrong immediately nailed a triple, one of two times in the last minute SCU would get within three.