SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Santa Clara rallied to beat Southern Utah 79-78 Friday night at the Leavey Center, making three three-pointers in the final 1:15, capped off by Ashley Armstrong's game-winning basket with 6.2 seconds left.
In a close game throughout, Southern Utah had pulled ahead by seven with 1:33 remaining, but Alyssa Shoji made consecutive 3s to give Santa Clara a chance to win.
When Hailey Mandelko's buzzer-beating attempt for Southern Utah just missed, an ecstatic Bronco team celebrated the win in front of its home crowd.
Santa Clara (3-1) is off to its best start since the 2007-08 season.
Shoji made five 3s en route to scoring 21 points and eclipsed the 1,000 career-point plateau in the process. Junior center Ruta Zurauskyte added 21 points and 13 rebounds, doing most of her work under the basket.
"We made big plays when we had to," said Santa Clara head coach Jennifer Mountain. "Alyssa (Shoji) hit some big shots and obviously Ashley (Armstrong's) shot was huge. I thought Ruta (Zurauskyte) set the pace for us tonight. She was ready to play."
Southern Utah (0-2) will continue its current road trip Sunday at Oregon State. The Thunderbirds are coached by former Santa Clara assistant J.R. Payne, now in her third season at SUU.
SUU held a 27-15 rebound advantage in the first half in taking a 40-38 lead. Santa Clara was outrebounded 48-32 for the game.
Mandelko scored a team-best 21 points for the visitors from Cedar City. She made a straight-away three to extend a four-point SUU lead to seven, 59-52 with 11:40 left. The seven-point gap was more than either team had enjoyed all night.
Playing from behind, Santa Clara disrupted Southern Utah's offense, forcing SUU into 13 second-half turnovers and Ricki Radanovich's 3 from the right wing sparked a late push from the Broncos, allowing SCU to keep it close.
Radanovich's three-ball made it 66-63. Then, back-to-back steals and an inside move and bucket from Zurauskyte got the Broncos within one, 68-67 with 3:31 remaining.
The Thunderbird lead grew to six when Marquelle Funk swished-in a baseline 3 to make it 73-67 with 2:45 to play. It appeared that Funk's three-pointer would give SUU just enough separation to hold on and win down the stretch.
But it was not to be for SUU. Shoji broke the 1,000-point milestone on a three-pointer at 1:15, then pulled SCU to within two on another three-ball with 59 seconds left.
Armstrong rebounded Funk's missed shot with 28 seconds remaining and was left open at the top of the key on the offensive end to sink the biggest shot of her college career thus far.
"Not our most impressive game of the year by any means. We have to work defensively the next couple of days," added Mountain. "The pressure defense we want to play, we need to sustain for 40 minutes. We will get back to the drawing board and keep getting better."
GAME NOTES: The Broncos converted a season-high eight three-pointers … Ruta Zurauskyte posted the first double-double of her career … Alyssa Shoji became the fourth-ever SCU player to make 200+ three-pointers … Before the game there was a moment of silence to honor the passing of Oklahoma State's women's basketball head coach and assistant coach, Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna, who died in a plane crash Thursday morning …. 674 were in attendance.