Santa Clara gets its groove back with underclassmen stepping up, beats Gonzaga
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Santa Clara (16-5, 7-3 WCC) is on a winning streak again after a few mid-season bumps in the road following a banner start and signature wins. Thursday night the Broncos defeated perennial conference power Gonzaga (14-8, 6-4) 71-64. It was the first time Santa Clara beat the Zags since 2006, breaking a 20-game losing streak in series between the two programs.
The win was the fourth in a row for the Broncos since losing to San Diego on Jan. 9. That loss was part of a three-game slide after starting the season 12-2.
“I’m really proud of our team and how hard they played,” said Santa Clara head coach JR Payne. “I feel like we’re not as talented as Gonzaga on paper, but I feel like our team has really bought in to how we want to play basketball. It’s tough, it’s gritty and it’s fearless for the most part. We really work hard to outwork our opponent and I think that’s what led to success tonight.”
The second-year head coach is turning around a program that has not won at least 15 games since the 2007-08 season. She says she is thrilled for “every positive step” for the program.
The Broncos are peaking at the right time of the season with underclassman stepping up to the plate. There are eight games left in Santa Clara’s West Coast Conference schedule before the league championship in Las Vegas in March.
In the triumph over Gonzaga, sophomore guard Taylor Berry led the way with a career-high 18 points along with four rebounds and four assists.
“She was just aggressive and fearless,” said Payne about Berry. “You know I think some of us were a little hesitant offensively, she was not hesitant at all and I think that’s what shows up in the stat column.”
Berry echoed Payne’s thoughts and said that the coaching staff has stressed being aggressive and assertive all season “but especially this week.”
“In addition to that, we always focus on being the toughest, the hardest working and the most disciplined team,” said Berry, “and that’s what we came out to do, just doing our job.”
Freshman guard Savanna Hanson added 14 points and four rebounds while sophomore forward Morgan McGwire chipped in with 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
“Savanna is one of our best shooters and Morgan was huge for us tonight,” said Payne. “Savanna penetrated some and hit some big 3-pointers and Morgan grabbed some big rebounds, none bigger than an offensive board in the second half.”
Santa Clara was dominant on the glass, outrebounding Gonzaga 39-27.
The Broncos led for most of the contest and had a 25-23 lead at the half. They broke away from the Zags in the third quarter, outscoring their opponent 18-13. During the fourth quarter, both teams scored at a blistering pace with 28 points each in the last 10 minutes. Gonzaga had a 10-0 run in the last 40 seconds but it was not enough to overcome the Santa Clara.
For Gonzaga, players off the bench paced the team. Redshirt freshman forward Jill Barta came off the bench for the Zags with 28 points, a career high. Freshman guards Laura Stockton and Zhané Templeton added 14 points and 10 points, respectively.
“Barta is one of the best players in the conference,” said Payne. “A lot of her shots were contested jumpers but she’s a nightmare to guard. You know she is going to get her points.”
The Zags are without senior Elle Tinkle for the rest of the season. In the ten games she played in and started, she averaged 10.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest. The. The senior suffered a right knee injury and is out for the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on Jan. 11.
Coming into the contest, both the Broncos and the Zags were tied in fourth place in the WCC. Santa Clara remains in fourth behind San Diego, BYU and Saint Mary’s while Gonzaga drops to fifth.
The Broncos remain at home to host Portland on Saturday while the Bulldogs continue their road trip at San Francisco on the same day.