LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Santa Clara, one of the nation's best 3-point shooting teams, saw its opening-round opponent at the WCC tournament make 8 of 12 shots from long range in the first half, which gave Portland a big lead and eventually a 90-76 victory over SCU at the Orleans Arena on Thursday afternoon.
Santa Clara (12-18) – who averages over 7 threes per game, ranking No. 10 among all NCAA teams - had secured the league's No. 6 seed in the WCC tournament, largely due to a season-sweep against the Pilots, including a one-point road win two weeks ago in Portland.
The Pilots built up a 13-point lead at halftime thanks to its red-hot shooting from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Cassandra Brown scored a career-high 32 points for the Pilots, including 17 in the first half.
The Broncos received 25-points from junior guard Meagan Fulps and classmate Ashley Armstrong added 19. The pair had allowed Santa Clara to pull within six on a number of occasions in the second half, but the early double-digit deficit was too much to overcome.
"They came out and shot well," aid Santa Clara head coach Jennifer Mountain. "Defensively, we missed some assignments in transition and the rebounds throughout the game were a factor. I don't think (Portland's early shooting) was too much to overcome, but it certainly did not get us off to a good start.
Portland (12-19), the tournament's No. 7 seed moves on to face No. 3 seed San Diego on Friday at 2 p.m.
Santa Clara's record-setting senior Alyssa Shoji and Armstrong made 3s in the early moments, but it was Portland who was able to establish an early 13-8 lead. In fact, the Pilots would stretch the advantage out to seven, 19-12, before Shoji dropped in another trey.
The Broncos were being matched shot for shot by Portland from the outside. The Pilots made 8 triples in the first half and 11 for the game. When Brown made a baseline 3 with 5:01 left before halftime, Portland led 36-25. The Pilots took a 44-31 lead into the locker room at the break.
Fulps gave SCU a much-needed spark in the opening stages of the second half, scoring 6 of 8 Bronco points after the intermission. When Armstrong hit a 21-foot three-pointer from the top of the key, Santa Clara was within striking distance at 53-42.
"I thought Meagan and Ashley were the best players on the floor tonight, especially their effort," said Mountain. "Meagan got to the rim a lot, she competed, and I think for the last month and a half actually, that Ashley has had a great season for us. She has been someone day-in and day-out you can count on."
Climbing back into it, Fulps provided SCU another huge lift, making back-to-back shots to slice the lead down to six, 55-49. However, Brown answered with another three-ball to keep the Pilots in command and up by nine with 13:26 on the clock.
Trailing by nine at the 11-minute mark, Fulps drove, scored and was fouled, pulling the Broncos back within six and igniting the SCU bench and fans who had come out to Vegas to support the team.
The Portland lead was down to six two more times late in the second half, but Santa Clara would get no closer.
Portland leading scorer, Natalie Day's five unanswered points at the 6-minute mark gave the Pilots enough separation to hold on and win.
The loss marks the end of a brilliant season and career for Shoji, who broke the WCC's all-time record for three-pointers in a single-season last week. Shoji ends her career No. 2 all-time in the WCC in 3s made and ranks No. 1 in SCU history in 3s and minutes played.
"She has been absolutely extraordinary," said Mountain about the play of Shoji, the Broncos lone senior. "It's not about the record-books for her, it never has been. The fact that she has accomplished what she has and has done it here at Santa Clara is a testament to what she is all about. There has been great players and guards that have come through here that can shoot the ball - and she is one of the best ever. Even more importantly off the floor, the kind of kid she is, you can count on her to give you 100 percent. She has been a great role model."