SANTA CLARA, Calif. – No. 23 BYU needed Haley Steed's 22-foot three-pointer with 1:22 left to escape Santa Clara's Leavey Center with its ninth-straight win, beating the Broncos 74-64. Santa Clara led with five minutes to play and trailed by just two when Steed swished-in what proved to be the game-winner.
Meagan Fulps scored 24 points for a Santa Clara (8-13; 1-7 WCC) team who continues to play well at home. The Broncos gave nationally-ranked and perennial league champs Gonzaga a scare two weeks ago at the Leavey Center.
"We are so close to breaking out," said Broncos head coach Jennifer Mountain. "It comes down to consistency and making big plays when it matters down the stretch. I think you can see, talent-wise, we are right there from breaking out and really getting it going."
Fulps had 17 points at the half and made 7 of 9 shots, including each of her first seven attempts. Fulps also made all seven of her free throw tries. Junior classmate Lindsay Leo scored 14 points and had 14 rebounds.
BYU (20-3; 8-1 WCC) used its balanced scoring attack to allow five players to reach double-figures in scoring. Kristen Riley had 17 points and 11 rebounds and 6-foot, 7-inch center Jennifer Hamson came off the bench to score 16, including a pair of free throws that gave BYU the lead for good at the 4:18 mark.
Santa Clara was sharp following the opening tip, out-scoring BYU 18-9 through the first six minutes, with Fulps making four early baskets. As a team the Broncos opened the game 7 for 11 from the field. However, after Stephanie Vermunt knocked down a three-ball and Lexi Eaton drove and scored, the Cougars had taken back the lead, 19-18, at the midway point of the first half.
The pace was quick, with both sides shooting early in their possessions. The lead changed hands 16 times in the first half, and in the closing moments Ashley Armstrong's 15-foot jumper and a baseline bucket from Nici Gilday put Santa Clara up 39-36 at the break.
With the game tied at 44, Fulps made a spinning lay up in traffic to put the Broncos in front and a post moves from Leo and Arteivia Lilomaiava extended the SCU lead to 50-44 with 12:33 left.
The only thing stopping the Bronco run was BYU's decisive height advantage, which allowed the Cougars to convert second-chance points and block shots on the defensive end. Hamson, who is 6-foot-7, scored inside to tie the game back up, 50-50.
Back-to-back field goals from Alyssa Shoji kept Santa Clara in command, 58-53, heading into the final seven minutes. But SCU was held scoreless for the next 3:40 and when Hamson gathered another offensive rebound and made two free throws, it was 59-58 Cougars.
With 3:13 remaining BYU led by two and the game stayed within a basket's difference until Steed provided the long triple to make it 68-63 with 1:22 left. Santa Clara was unable to counter with a 3 on the other end and BYU made the necessary free throws to hold on and win.
"I thought our kids played really hard and pretty well," said Mountain. "Now we have to find a way to sustain it against everybody and play the same. We've displayed that we have it in us. Nobody expected us to win this game tonight. To be there and have an opportunity and not make plays when we need to is disappointing. But I also think it is a confidence builder for us and this team for the rest of the year."