Denker Looks Ahead to WCC Tournament

Feb. 25, 2002

As the Santa Clara University women's basketball team prepares for the upcoming West Coast Conference Championship, head coach Chris Denker took part in a league conference call to preview the league tournament, as well as the NCAA postseason.

The Broncos will play San Diego on Thursday at the Jenny Craig Pavilion in San Diego at 6 p.m. The team finished the regular season 19-8 overall, 9-5 in the league with a victory over regular season WCC champion Pepperdine to close out the home schedule with a perfect 12-0 mark.

"As always, we're looking forward to the tournament," Denker said. "It's going to be an exciting year because I think this is the best our conference has ever been. We have a difficult draw, we feel, because we're the only team to truly have a road game. Playing at San Diego has been a bit of a challenge to us... we have a tough week ahead of us."

"We've been successful against Santa Clara because we match up well," San Diego head coach Kathy Marpe explained. "We both have good inside games, guards, emphasis on three-point shooting, a full-court attack and different defenses. I'm pleased with the match-up, I feel we do have a chance in this game and I'm happy it's at my place."

The Broncos have not defeated the Toreros in San Diego in their last four meetings, and last lost to USD in tournament play in the semifinals of the 2000 Championship. Additionally, with last season's first round loss to Portland in the tournament, Santa Clara is winless at 0-3 at Jenny Craig Pavilion.

"It must be that new building or the weather must be too nice... I don't know what it is," Denker joked. "We just haven't been prepared to play well down there. We've talked about it to the players a little bit the past couple weeks. We don't need a tremendous amount of momentum going into the tournament, but we need to be improving. Having the attention of the players, getting a lot done in practice and being able to focus on the game at hand is certainly more important."

"Our thinking for this week is we have one game," he continued. "We have to go down and play San Diego and do the best we can to win that, then we'll worry about the next game the following night should we be fortunate enough to get there. We just can't afford to look ahead. We haven't done well in the tournament the last few years. It's going to be even tougher this year, I'm not going to worry about the next game until we win the first one."

As for the momentum heading into the tournament, Denker points out the ups and downs in the results over the past six games.

"We've had an interesting past few weeks," he said. "We lost some consecutive games, and three-of-four at one point, but then came back and won two really tough games at home. Even though we had lost a couple of games, we were improving. I felt like we were getting better. Our undefeated home season has put our kids on a little bit of a high going into the tournament."

As for the NCAA Tournament, almost every coach echoed Denker's feelings on the strength of the league's schedule and number of victories.

"Our conference does not get enough kudos," Denker said. "We need more respect than what we're getting. It's hard for me to sit back and hear people say we're only going to get one team in when our RPI as a league is seventh, and that's ahead of the Pac-10. I feel we deserve some at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament. The top five teams in the league are WNIT-type teams are for sure. But USF is right, the best way to get into the NCAA is to win the league tournament, then you don't have to sit around and worry about it for the week, but I do think it's time for our conference to start getting some of the respect we've earned on the court."

"I've been around for a long time and I've seen the growth all the teams have made," Marpe agreed. "I think it's time the West Coast Conference gets its due. I think the league was always criticized because we haven't gone outside our region and played the top teams. That's changed... for a long time we were playing them and not beating them, but now we're playing them and beating them at their place, you can't minimize that. Our conference needs to be give the attention and respect it deserves."

The league tournament continues through March 4, with the women's semifinal games beginning March 1 at 6 p.m., with the championship slated for a 2:30 p.m. start on March 3. The title contest will air live on Fox Sports West, KRON and Action Sports.