SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Santa Clara's Meagan Fulps poured in 30 points but St. Mary's Jasmine Smith made a tie-breaking three-pointer with 56 seconds left to lift the Gaels past the Broncos, 77-68.
In an extremely entertaining game at Santa Clara's Leavey Center, the two rivals exchanged leads five times in the final five minutes before Smith put the Gaels up for good in the closing seconds.
Smith finished with a team-high 23 points for St. Mary's (11-8; 3-1 WCC) who is picked second behind Gonzaga in the WCC preseason polls. Gael senior center Louella Tomlinson blocked seven shots and Kate Gaze scored 15, including two pivotal 3s late in the second half.
"I thought our effort was good, but we can't break down defensively at crucial times," said Santa Clara head coach Jennifer Mountain. "We gave up 3s in times of the game when you just can't. We gave up three 3s to two shooters on the floor, and that was it."
Santa Clara (6-11; 2-1 WCC) nearly won its fifth straight, getting 30 points and eight rebounds from Fulps, both career-high's. Lindsay Leo added 14 and had given the Broncos a 63-60 lead with 4:01 left.
It was Gaze tying it with 3:28 on the clock, 63-63, by making a 3 from the left wing, then making another from the same spot moments later to put SMC up by two.
Fulps made a driving lay up to tie it back up before Smith connected on what proved to be the decisive shot.
"I thought we really battled, we played solid throughout the game but had lapses defensively late," said Fulps. "It's rough to lose when you think you played a solid game but it is going to give us more confidence going forward."
In a low-scoring first half, Fulps sparked the Bronco offense by making a series of acrobatic layups to fuel an 11-1 Santa Clara run and give the Broncos a 27-23 lead. Alyssa Shoji rattled in a 3 with just over a minute remaining before the break to help SCU take a 29-25 lead to the locker room at halftime.
SMC led by as many as seven early in the first half and would outscore Santa Clara 14-6 to open the second half, making 6 of 7 shots following the intermission. A pair of Courtney Dunn free throws made it 41-35 Gaels at the 14:45 mark.
Fulps continued to keep Santa Clara close, scoring 21 of the Broncos' first 44 points, including back-to-back 3s to make it 45-44 SMC.
It looked for a moment like the Gaels were going to put the game away, building up their largest lead of the night 57-48 with 8:05 left but Fulps and Leo gave the Broncos a chance to win it in the final minute.
"The energy we've had defensively has really helped our offense," said Mountain about her team's play and a 2-1 WCC start. "We are going to go back to work on Monday and focus on the Northwest trip. It's always a hard trip. We have to make sure we are playing good basketball and focus on ourselves and how we can continue to get better."
The Broncos play league-favorite and perennial WCC Champion Gonzaga Thursday night, January 20 in Spokane, then play at Portland the afternoon of Saturday, January 22.