Santa Clara Edged By UC Irvine Saturday Afternoon, 88-82

Santa Clara's Meagan Fulps drives to the basket Saturday against UC Irvine. (Glenn - Karen Feingerts Photo)

IRVINE, Calif. – UC Irvine scored 12 of the game's final 14 points to comeback and defeat visiting Santa Clara 88-82 Saturday at the Bren Events Center. The run spoiled a 33-point performance from Bronco center Ruta Zurauskyte and Santa Clara's bid to win their sixth-straight.

For Santa Clara (6-2), it was the second of four straight road games. The Broncos' current stretch includes Cal State Northridge, UC Irvine, Cal and Seattle.

Bronco senior guard Alyssa Shoji was terrific as well, scoring 17 of her 22 points before the break, which allowed SCU to lead by nine with 4:34 left in the first half.

UC Irvine (3-5) rallied behind 19 second-half points from Kassandra McCallister and 16 points and eight rebounds by Jasmine Bernard.

"I really felt like we didn't defend and rebound well enough, especially in that second half," said Santa Clara head coach Jennifer Mountain. "Being on the road and giving up close to 90 points – your not going to win those kind of games. So we talked about getting stops and clamping down defensively, but we just didn't do it, that's the bottom line."

Santa Clara led 82-80 with 1:50 left before Jazmyne White and Bernard took advantage of back-to-back Bronco turnovers to vault UCI back in front 84-82 in the final moments.

Four straight free throws from McCallister made it 88-82 Anteaters, completing the decisive run over the final 3:40.

"That team wanted it more than we did in the second half and they took it to us," said Mountain.

Shoji made good on her first three 3-point attempts – and would make four on the day – as SCU overcame erratic play early to lead 13-10 after four minutes. Through the first 10 minutes the Broncos had committed eight turnovers, a stark contrast to the team's entire game-totals of 13 and 11 during wins over CSU Northridge and UC Davis earlier this week.

However, the Broncos settled in and got a pair of inside post-moves by Zurauskyte and a triple from Ashley Armstrong, putting the visitors up 35-26 with 4:20 remaining in the first half.

"We came out flat but rallied a little bit by hitting some shots," said Mountain.

Shoji had 17 points to lead all scorers in the first half and SCU was in front 43-38 at halftime.

Bernard sparked a mini-run for UCI following the break, making two baskets in the paint to cut it to a one-point game, 45-44.

Meagan Fulps, who poured in 19 points in Thursday's 90-72 victory in Northridge, provided a driving lay up and consecutive baseline jumpers to keep SCU on track for the win. Fulps had 13 points – the sixth time this season she has been in double-figures.

But an up-tempo press by UCI kept the Anteaters close, 61-58 at the 11:20 mark, courtesy of six-straight points from White. With 7:09 remaining, UCI finally broke through and took the lead for the first time since the game's opening moments, 73-71.

"Defensively in the second half (UCI) went to that zone, the same zone we saw against UC Davis and we got tentative," said Mountain. "Ruta did a great job, but you have to have other people going with (her)."

Zurauskyte continued to be the answer in the second half. Making 12 of 17 shots and all nine free throw attempts, the 6-foot, 4-inch junior from Siauliai, Lithuania controlled the paint on the offensive end for SCU.

"(Ruta) has put a lot of hard work into her game," said Mountain. "She is a big body, she is getting up and down the floor and more than anything she is competing. She is working hard for position and doing a great job finishing. She has great hands."

The Broncos will have a week off to focus on academic finals before returning to the court Saturday, Dec. 10 at Cal. Tip-off in Berkeley is scheduled for 2 p.m.

GAME NOTES:
The game marked Santa Clara's fourth-straight against a team in the Big West Conference … UCI's last victory over SCU was back on Dec. 13, 1986 (the Broncos entered the game having won the past five meetings) … Ruta Zurauskyte's 33 points was a career-high (she entered the season with 9 career points in her freshman and sophomore years combined) … Santa Clara splits its two-game swing to the Los Angeles area (both CSUN and UCI will make the return trip to the Leavey Center next season) … The Anteaters had played six of their first seven games away from home prior to Saturday's win over the Broncos.