SANTA CLARA, Calif. – With its best start in the West Coast Conference since 2007-08, Santa Clara women's basketball will host Saint Mary's at the Leavey Center on Thur., Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. The Broncos, currently on a three-game winning streak, are 12-6 overall and 4-1 in WCC play. Last week Santa Clara beat Pepperdine 38-36 on the road and San Francisco 61-48 at home.
Santa Clara has been playing lights out on defense, holding opponents to a .291 (57-196) shooting percentage over the last three games. It has also forced twice as many turnovers (48) as it has allowed assists (24) in that same span. Head coach Jennifer Mountain knows that tough defense is a big reason the Broncos are off to a good start.
"I think our help defense has been tremendous in the last few games," said Mountain. "Our kids are playing hard on defense and realizing that's where they're winning games. I've thought that we've had decent starts to the last two games and really held that momentum and intensity through the second half which is what we need to do to win basketball games."
The Broncos are shooing .399 (417-1046) from the field and .315 (93-295) from deep. The team is led by Meagan Fulps who is scoring 11.3 points per game and pulling down 3.4 rebounds per game. Fulps shoots .349 (67-192) from the field and .327 (32-98) from three. Ricki Radanovich leads the team with 41 threes made and 124 attempted while shooing .359 (69-192) from the field. Her 41 threes made is also tops in the conference. Radanovich averages 11.1 ppg and a team-best 2.2 steals per game. Lindsay Leo is tied for the team-lead with 7.4 rpg, fifth in the WCC, while scoring 10.4 ppg. She is shooting .441 (63-143) from the field and a conference-high .851 (40-47) from the charity stripe. Her 1.8 blocks per game is second in the WCC. Ruta Zurauskyte is tied with Leo with 7.4 rpg while scoring 9.6 ppg. She leads the team in field goal percentage at .489 (69-141). Nici Gilday leads the team with 3.2 assists per game and is scoring 7.7 ppg coming off the bench.
Saint Mary's enters the game with a 12-5 overall record and a 4-1 mark in conference play. The Gaels entered the season on a three-game road trip vs. Pac-12 teams and lost at Washington and Cal while beating Oregon 78-69. They also took down Gonzaga 54-51 at home. Last week Saint Mary's fell to San Diego at home 73-70 and beat Pepperdine at home 72-61. Against common opponents the Gaels are 5-1 while the Broncos are 3-3.
As a team Saint Mary's shoots .387 (381-984) from the field and .311 (79-254) from downtown. The Gaels have a +8.9 rebounding margin and make almost nine more free throws per game than their opponents. The Gales lead the WCC in scoring (68.8 ppg) and rebounding margin (+8.9).
Facing a team as good on the boards as Saint Mary's is always a challenge. For the Broncos, who are 10-0 when outrebounding opponents and just 2-6 when being outrebounded, the battle on the glass will be even more important.
"We have been pounding it into the players' heads the last the last two days that they have players that just fly to the boards and it will be a difference maker," said Mountain. "You can't just go to rebounds, you have to put contact on people because they're very physical, aggressive and have done a great job. We have to do a good job not only defending the ball and not giving up shots but we can't give them second chance points."
Jackie Nared leads the Gales, and the WCC, with 19.0 ppg while also pulling down 9.5 rpg which is good for second in the conference. Nared is shooing .408 (106-260) from the field and .290 (20-69) from three. Danielle Mauldin is tops on the Saint Mary's team with 11.1 rpg and also leads the WCC. She scores 14.8 ppg and shoots .491 (83-169) from the field. Kate Gaze is the third Gael averaging double figures at 11.6 ppg and is shooting .391 (22-60) from the field and .367 (22-60) from deep.
"It is going to be a team effort to stop Nared," said Mountain. "We're going to put Meagan [Fulps] on her to start and try to keep her out of the paint. The key to them getting going is getting penetration to the paint. We need to make Nared attempt contested jump shots. You cannot leave her open and she has the ability to do a lot of different things. We have to be solid on her and it's going to have to be a combination of people to slow her down."
As if one of the best players in the conference isn't enough to worry about, the Broncos will also have to deal with the conference's leading rebounder and a player who is shooting over .500 from the field.
"We have to keep Mauldin off the boards," said Mountain. "She's averaging seven offensive rebounds a game so she's getting put backs. We've got to be physical with her from the beginning and not allow her to get easy looks on rebounds."