March 9, 2003
SAN DIEGO, Calif. - The Santa Clara University women's basketball team fell to top-seeded Pepperdine in the title contest of the 2003 West Coast Conference Championship, 69-57. Senior Kendra Rhea was named the Tournament MVP, and she led the Broncos with 14 points and nine rebounds this afternoon.
Leading for most of the contest, the Broncos only scored seven points in the final eight minutes of the game. Pepperdine recorded 25 points during that span to earn its second straight conference title. Last season, the Waves topped the Broncos 81-77 for their first league championship.
The Broncos, now 20-10 on the season, were playing their third game in as many days. Pepperdine, who moved to 22-7, earned byes in the first two rounds by virtue of its regular season championship.
Santa Clara, who has won at least 20 games for six consecutive seasons, was making its fifth appearance in the final. Santa Clara previously won tournament championships in 1992 and '98, both hosted by the Broncos at the former Toso Pavilion.
Rhea is a native of nearby Lakeside and earned her second straight All-Tournament honors in front of the hometown crowd. Teammate Kayla Huss was also named to the All-Tournament team.
Santa Clara started the contest making only 2-7 shots from the field, but by midway through the period, the Broncos had made six of eight during one run and finished the half shooting 51.9 percent from the field.
The teams changed leads six times and saw five ties through the afternoon. Huss hit a turn-around jumper at the shot clock buzzer to give Santa Clara a 26-23 lead that the Broncos held inside the three-minute mark. A Quinn Thomas three made it 32-28 Broncos, but Pepperdine converted on its last possession of the half to make it a two-point ballgame at intermission.
Santa Clara held Pepperdine without a field goal in the first four minutes after the break. After a 34-34 tie, Kim Butler scored on a post move and then assisted on a Thomas three during the Broncos' next possession. Rhea scored the next time down the court, forcing Pepperdine head coach Mark Trakh to call a time out, as Santa Clara opened a six-point lead, matching it's largest advantage since 20-14 in the first half.
The Broncos kept that lead, at 50-44, with eight minutes remaining. Kelli Spencer became hot for the Waves, and scored nine of Pepperdine's next 11 points. The Waves went on a 25-7 run to close out the contest, as Santa Clara was held without a field goal for four minutes, and only posted two baskets in the final eight. Pepperdine was solid from the free throw line, making seven in the final minute to seal the win.
Keani Christianson and Spencer were also named to the All-Tournament team, as was Gonzaga's Shannon Mathews.
The Broncos now await the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, which will air live on ESPN on Sunday, March 16, at 2 p.m. Pacific Time.