SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Santa Clara absorbed an early push from Northern Colorado then reeled off a 26-2 first-half run to beat the Bears 71-37 Wednesday night at the Leavey Center.
Santa Clara (2-1) received a career-high 18 points and nine rebounds from junior center Ruta Zurauskyte and all 13 available players saw extended floor time for a Bronco team that enjoyed one of its biggest regular-season wins in recent memory.
The Bronco defense limited the Bears to a 23.9 shooting percentage. The visitors went 11 for 46 from the field and were 0 for 8 from three-point range.
"I thought our defense was extraordinary," said Santa Clara head coach Jennifer Mountain. "We took them out of their rhythm and they didn't shoot the ball very well."
Northern Colorado (0-2) was coming off a 59-49 season-opening loss at Bradley. The Bears shared the Big Sky Championship title a year ago, finishing 12-4 in league play last season.
The Bears looked sharp immediately after the opening tip, using a 9-0 run to take a 13-4 lead before Ashley Armstrong dropped in a mid-range jumper at the 13:45 mark.
Armstrong's basket started a string of 11 unanswered Bronco points, which included baskets from Alyssa Shoji, Zurauskyte and Ricki Radanovich. With 8 minutes left before halftime, Santa Clara had established a 22-15 lead and would never look back.
Armstrong finished with 15 points and is averaging a team-best 16.3 per contest through the first three games of the new season.
Zurauskyte needed just 12 minutes to set a new personal scoring-best, totaling 11 quick points and would finish the half with 13. Seven different Santa Clara players scored in the opening period, helping the SCU lead grow to 16 by halftime, 39-23.
"Ruta has come in and done a great job for us," said Mountain. "We have to keep her out of foul trouble, but she does a good job of working early and getting position. If she's got position down low she's hard to get around."
Shoji made one of her three triples on the Broncos first possession of the second half and she put Santa Clara up by 19, 47-28, with 12:35 left when she made another – this one from 20-feet, outside the top of the key.
It turned into a bona fide rout midway through the second half when Armstrong sank a trey and Radanovich converted a breakaway lay up. SCU was up by 24 points with 10 minutes remaining. The Broncos would lead by as many as 36.
Santa Clara is in the midst of playing five of their first six games at home. Next up is Southern Utah on Friday, November 18 at 7 p.m.
"Well [Southern Utah] doesn't handle pressure very well," said Mountain, looking ahead to Friday night's game. "They shoot the ball a little better than Northern Colorado. They have some size and they have an inside-outside game. If we apply the type of pressure we did tonight we should be good."
GAME NOTES: Santa Clara held a team to under 39 points in a 10-point victory for the first time since Dec. 13, 1987 (71-31) ... Ruta Zurauskyte has bested her career-high in points in two consecutive games (Fresno State and Northern Colorado)… Alyssa Shoji's 11 points puts her 16 away from 1,000 for her career… Shoji is now one three-pointer shy from becoming the fourth-ever Bronco to make 200 or more... Telisha Anderson posted a season-high five rebounds… … Santa Clara and Northern Colorado are 1-1 all-time in their only two meetings, the home team has one each contest… Shelby Swofford made her Bronco debut with 3:27 left in the game, scoring her first points on two three-pointers from the corner… Colleen Rooney scored her first points as a Bronco with a minute left.