SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Meagan Fulps set the all-time school record for free throws made with 17 and matched her career-high by scoring 30 points to lead homestanding Santa Clara to a 93-87 season-opening victory over CSU Bakersfield Friday night.
The 93 points scored is the most-ever in Jennifer Mountain's three-plus years as Santa Clara's head coach and the win against CSU Bakersfield - a postseason tournament team last season – gives momentum to a young Bronco group that is beginning the season by playing five of its first six at home.
"If you would have told me we would score in the nineties tonight I would have been pretty surprised," said Mountain. "This game was a battle, one we had to tough out. Down ten, up ten, having them comeback multiple times during the game tells us a lot about the character of our kids and their effort."
CSU Bakersfield came out and made its first four attempts from 3-point range, with Amber Williams making three of those four. The fast start from the 'Runners put the visitors up by as many as 12 in the first half, 32-20, at the 8:39 mark.
Williams finished with a game-best 32 points, making 10 field goals and six 3s.
However, Santa Clara was able to match the pace and then some, pushing the action and drawing 16 first-half fouls, which resulted in 15 makes from the free throw line. Fulps alone converted 12 of 14 from the charity stripe in the opening half, part of a 19-6 Bronco run in the final five minutes before the break.
Santa Clara led 49-46 at halftime – the 49 points was more than any first-half point total last season.
"I really think the game changed in the first half when we put Nici (Gilday) on Amber Williams, the kid who was really hurting us shooting the ball," said Mountain. "We really clamped down in the defensive end, which always translates to points on the offensive end."
Nici Gilday, last year's San Jose Mercury News 'Senior of the Year' while at Presentation High School, is part of an outstanding recruiting class brought in over the offseason by Mountain and her staff. Gilday finished the night with 15 points and 10 rebounds on 6 of 9 shooting.
The tempo remained quick and the game remained close in the second half. Eleven of Kristine Herman's 17 points came following the intermission and despite back-to-back buckets from another Bronco freshman standout, Tyler Woods, which put SCU up 72-63 with 9:34 remaining, the 'Runners stormed right back to tie it at 74 just three minutes later.
Fulps did a little of everything Friday night, dishing out a go-ahead assist with 5:12 on the clock and forcing a CSUB turnover on the ensuing possession to spark a decisive surge late in the game that was capped off by a pair of 3-pointers from Alyssa Shoji.
Shoji's right-wing three-ball with 2:22 remaining made it 88-78 Santa Clara. Shoji finished with 13 points and junior Ashley Armstrong had 18, matching a career-high by making eight field goals.
"We had to make plays," said Mountain about pulling away late in the game. "It came down to Shoji hitting huge threes for us in the end and they came at just the right time. We took care of the ball and made free throws."
The 'Runners did all they could to rally for the win. Madison McKenney dropped-in CSUB's 12th and final three-pointer to cut the SCU lead to three, 90-87 with 38 seconds left and CSUB had a chance to tie but turned the ball over with 14 seconds to play.
Santa Clara will play at perennial NCAA Tournament qualifier Fresno State on Sunday, the team's lone road game during an early-season stretch played mostly at the Leavey Center on the Mission Campus.
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