SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Looking to start the 2013-14 season on the right foot, Santa Clara women's basketball hits the road to face UNLV in the regular season opener for both teams. The Broncos beat Sonoma State 81-47 and Humboldt State 94-68 in a pair of exhibition games to start the season over the weekend.
"In the opener I'm expecting to see a lot of what I saw in the exhibition games," said Santa Clara head coach Jennifer Mountain. "There will be a lot of people stepping up and the pace needs to be quick. We played pretty well this weekend but we need to do better defensively. We've had a few good days of practice and I loved what I saw today. I'm excited to see what these guys can do as a collective group."
As a team UNLV runs the floor and plays an up-tempo game so Santa Clara's defense in transition will be a big factor in the outcome of the game.
"Our transition defense is going to be a huge key, as well as rebounding," said Mountain. "They shoot the ball very quickly and are a veteran ball club. We have to do a great job in transition defense and we have to do a great job on the boards. It's really going to be about how we share the ball offensively."
Last season the Broncos took on two teams that would make the NCAA Tournament. They topped Fresno State 58-53 and fell to No. 4 Stanford. From Dec. 9 through Jan. 19, Santa Clara went 9-2 and began WCC play 4-1. Santa Clara shot .391 from the field and .319 from deep.
Ricki Radanovich is the top returning scorer for Santa Clara. Radanovich added 10.5 points per game while hitting a West Coast Conference-high 68 threes. She also led the team with 1.8 steals per game. Nici Gilday showed a well-rounded game all year by averaging 7.5 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists per games and 1.2 steals per game as the first option off the bench to start the year and as a starter midway through the year. Ruta Zurauskyte was tops on the team with a 48.6 percent mark shooting while scoring 10.5 points per game and led the team with 7.2 rebounds per game. She averaged 1.0 blocks per game as well.
Santa Clara outscored their opponents 175-115 over its two exhibition games in 2013-14. The Broncos shot 45.9% (61-133) from the field and 24.3% (9-37) from deep. They averaged 54 rpg as a team while outrebounding teams by 20 rpg. Santa Clara had a 1.1 assist to turnover ratio while holding opponents to a 0.4 ratio.
Vanessa Leo leads the team in scoring through two exhibition games with 13.0 ppg. She has also pulled down a team-high 13.5 rpg. Jo Paine averaged 11.0 ppg and 6.5 rpg while shooting 9-13 from the field. Montana Walters tied for the team-lead with 3.0 assists per game while scoring 6.0 ppg. Ricki Radanovich has a team-best 2.5 steals per game and has scored 7.0 ppg. Freshman Marie Bertholdt blocked three shots over two games and scored 8.5 ppg while grabbing 5.0 rpg.
The depth the Broncos showed during their exhibition games is something that will be a big advantage in what will be a fast-paced game.
"Our depth and our tempo is going to be a problem for them," said Mountain. "We have multiple weapons so if they take one thing away we can exploit another. We don't have that one superstar; we have a really nice group that can do a lot of things collectively. That's going to be our biggest advantage in the game."
The Rebels return several players from their team last year. They have also added a transfer and are welcoming back key players that missed time due to injury.
"Their point guard Mia Bell is their catalyst and makes them go," said Mountain. "They have five basic starters and a transfer from Arizona. We have to do a really nice job of slowing them down. Vernin has done a nice job for them as well. She can score the ball, she can rebound the ball and she's athletic. We have to do a good job on her as well."
Last season UNLV was 12-19 overall and 7-9 at home. The Rebels shot 37.4% (668-1785) from the field and 28.4% (131-461) from three. They had a 0.7 assist-to-turnover ratio while collecting 298 steals and 106 blocks.
Alana Cesarz is the top remaining scorer but played in just 19 games. Cesarz averaged 15.6 ppg and led the team with 7.1 rpg. She shot 42.5% (105-247) from the field and 32.4% (11-34) from deep. Danielle Miller played in all 31 games while making 30 starts and averaged 10.5 ppg on 30.7% (103-335) shooting from the field. Rejane Verin played all 31 games and scored 8.4 ppg while shooting 49.5% (110-222) from the field. Verin grabbed 6.8 rpg while blocking 16 shots. Amie Callaway led UNLV with 29 blocks while scoring 4.9 ppg and grabbing 4.1 rpg.