PORTLAND, Ore. – Alyssa Shoji scored a career-high 28 points and made eight 3s, one shy of a school record, leading Santa Clara to a thrilling 71-70 WCC road victory at Portland on Saturday night.
With the game tied at 69 with 2:53 left, Ashley Armstrong made a baseline jumper to give SCU the lead and Portland could not answer with a game-changing basket on the other end, including Natalie Day's would-be game-winner, which bounced off the rim with 3 seconds left.
Santa Clara (11-16; 4-10 WCC) remains in sixth-place in the league standings heading into the final week of regular-season play. SCU will play at No. 23 BYU on Thursday before hosting local rival USF on 'Senior Day' next Saturday.
Portland (10-18; 3-12 WCC) received 22 points from Alexis Byrd, while Day and Cassandra Brown combined for 19 second-half points to rally the Pilots back from a nine-point deficit with 15 minutes left.
"It was a game of runs that went back-and-forth, back-and-forth," said Santa Clara head coach Jennifer Mountain. "Runs, we went periods of time where we turned the ball over and didn't make shots. They were able to make shots at times and get out in transition. I was just a good back-and-forth basketball game. I am really proud of our kids. We battled on the road."
Shoji carried the Broncos in the second half, making threes from all angles. Her career-high eighth trey kept SCU in front at the 7:29 mark and an old-fashioned 3-point play from Lindsay Leo allowed the Broncos a tenuous edge heading into the final minutes.
"(Alyssa) shot the ball calmly, it wasn't rushed, it was not forced, she took her shot," said Mountain. "When she is on, she is pretty deadly. I was really proud of her because she hit some huge shots for us. If we don't make those shots it becomes a totally different ball game."
Leo finished the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds – her sixth double-double of the season. SCU had led by five at the half, 39-34, and extended the advantage to as many as nine at the 15:09 mark.
Day, one of the WCC's top scorers at 18.0 ppg, did not make a basket until the opening moments of the second half. Portland's three starting frontcourt players, Day, Brown and Amy Pupa combined to shoot 26 percent (6 of 23) from the field until Day and Brown started to find an offensive rhythm midway through the second half.
"The game plan was to limit (Day's) touches," said Mountain. "I thought we did a great job in the first half. She was 0 for 6. She made some big shots for them in the second half, kind of turning it on there, but I think it was their rebounding that kept them in it."
When Brown nailed a long 3 with 7:59 left, it was back to a one-point game, 61-60. Day and Brown both ended up with 13 points and eight rebounds. Kari Luttinen added 13 as well.
Following Armstrong's late jumper, which put SCU up with 2:53 left, a defensive stop and an Armstrong rebound gave it back to the Broncos. But her midrange jumper fell short as the shot clock expired, giving Portland the first of two chances to tie or take the lead with 1:23 left.
Pupa made one of two free throws on Portland's ensuing possession, setting up a nail-biting finish, where SCU had the ball and a one-point lead in the final seconds. Shoji just missed an open 3 and a Portland foul with 13 seconds left gave Leo a chance to extend it to a three-point game.
Leo missed the front end of the one-and-one, but when Day's potential winner was rebounded by Nici Gilday, the game was essentially over.
"Switch everything, do not give them any open looks and help-side must be ready if someone decides to penetrate," Mountain told her team as Portland was setting up a final shot. "It was one stop, that shell defense that we do in practice everyday. We had to make one stop and made the play."
GAME NOTES: Shoji's eight three-pointers was a career-high and one shy of the all-time SCU single-game record of nine set by Ashley Graham '07 in a game at Portland in 2006 … Santa Clara's Jennifer Mountain grew up in Portland and UP head coach Jim Sollars was one of her first-ever coaches when she was a young player … for the second-straight game true freshman Nici Gilday came off the bench to lead SCU in first-half rebounding; she had eight points and eight rebounds, making 4 of 7 shots.