SANTA CLARA, Calif. – One of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation gave No. 25 Gonzaga a serious scare at the Leavey Center Thursday night. The host Broncos made 10 treys and led at the half before the Bulldogs managed to escape with the 81-68 win.
Santa Clara (8-10; 1-4 WCC) trailed by just six in the closing moments, getting 17 points and five 3s from senior guard Alyssa Shoji. Archbishop Mitty product Lindsay Leo provided 14 points and nine rebounds for the Broncos and Ashley Armstrong scored 12.
"Well I honestly thought we played really well and really hard," said Santa Clara head coach Jennifer Mountain, who was an All-WCC player and former assistant coach at Gonzaga. "The second half it was the offensive boards that hurt us. I thought our effort was great. I'm really proud of what we did. That is a top-25 team and the score doesn't reflect how close the game was. I think it is a turning point for us."
Gonzaga (16-3; 5-1 WCC) – ranked No. 25 in the latest ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll – was down by three in the opening stages of the second half. However, All-WCC forward Katelan Redmon came up big, scoring a game-high 32 points to lead the Zags. GU has won seven-straight WCC regular season titles.
GU started fast and led by scores of 9-2 and 18-7 but Santa Clara responded with a surge of offense, sparked by their play on the defensive end. When Ricki Radanovich connected on a 22-foot three-pointer, Santa Clara cut the deficit down to 21-19.
The momentum picked up significantly when a barrage of triples - three-straight from Armstrong, Shoji and Radanovich – accounted for a 9-0 Bronco run, tying the game at 33 five minutes prior to the intermission.
Armstrong put the Broncos up for the first time, 36-35, beating the shot-clock horn with a straight-away triple from way out. SCU would make seven 3s in the opening half and led 40-39 at halftime.
"We were doing the things we needed to do," said Shoji. "We were really trying to limit them to one shot. They have long guards who can rebound. We were doing that in the first half. We were executing and being patient."
GU's senior classmates Redmon and Kayla Standish carried the Zags as the second half began. One of Redmon's 14 baskets put GU in front 51-45, helping Gonzaga re-establish a lead of 11 with 11:51 to play.
Playing some of their most inspired basketball of the season, SCU would bounce right back, holding GU scoreless for the next three minutes, and when Meagan Fulps drove the lane and rolled in a lay up, it was 64-61 with 7:52 left.
Shoji's fifth 3 came after Redmon nailed a pull-up jumper to put GU up by nine. With 5:01 on the clock, Santa Clara trailed 70-64.
A number of opportunities to cut into GU's six-point lead just didn't happen for Santa Clara late in the game. When Jazmine Redmon went to the free throw line with 1:32 left, GU led by eight and would have enough of a cushion to hold on and win.
"Well at the two-minute mark when we were at the free throw line, it was a six-point game," said Mountain. "Missing a front end of a one-and-one was huge. Free throws make a big difference and we have to do a better job at the line. But if we play with the effort we had tonight and we play collectively as a group we will be right there (Saturday at LMU)."
Santa Clara will travel to Los Angeles Friday evening in preparation for that Saturday road game at LMU. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m.
GAME NOTES: Alyssa Shoji passed former teammate Lena Gipson '11 in career scoring at SCU, moving into 7th place all-time with (1,233) points … Shoji also eclipsed the 300-assist and 250 three-point field goal milestones on Thursday … SCU entered the game ranked 7th in the NCAA in 3PT% (38.8) and 9th in 3s per game (3.9) ... the game was billed as 'Alzheimer's Awareness Night' as SCU joined forces with the Alzheimer's Association to raise funds and awareness in hopes of finding a cure for the disease.