SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- Santa Clara got the NCAA Tournament
bid it really wanted. Snapping Gonzaga's 23-game winning streak was
just a bonus.
Michelle Cozad scored 22 points and Santa Clara beat Gonzaga
77-66 on Sunday, ending the nation's longest winning streak and
clinching the West Coast Conference tournament title.
Gonzaga was trying to become the first team to go unbeaten in
the WCC regular season and tournament, but now the No. 24 Bulldogs
will have to hope to be invited to their first NCAA Tournament. The
men's team has gotten that far every year since 1999.
The Bulldogs (27-3) trailed by as many as 25 before making a
late run against the Broncos.
"At some point I figured that streak was going to end, I just
didn't think it would be today,'' said Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves,
who is confident the Bulldogs will receive an at-large berth to the
tournament. "I'd hate to think that someone with 27 wins can't get
in. I'm not going to spend any time worrying about it.''
Santa Clara (17-13), the conference tournament host, will be
making its first NCAA appearance since 2002, when it lost in the
first round. It is the Broncos' third WCC title and first since
Ashley Graham had 17 points, all in the first half, and Quinn
Thomas added 14 points and six rebounds for Santa Clara, which tied
a school record with 14 3-pointers. It is the fourth time this
season the Broncos have made 14 3s in a game.
"It was do or die for us,'' said Graham, who helped Santa Clara
take control in the first half. "Either win or we're out. When
it's a lose-or-out game, you can't just go in and roll over.''
Ashley Burke scored 28 points and had eight rebounds for
Gonzaga, which didn't have WCC player of the year Shannon Mathews
in the starting lineup because of a right ankle sprain.
The point guard was injured Saturday midway through the first
half of Gonzaga's 58-40 semifinal win over Pepperdine. Mathews,
whose scoring average of 11.6 points ranks second on the team,
didn't return against the Waves and wasn't expected to play against
the Broncos. But she checked in at 15:27 of the first half.
Mathews scored just six points and wasn't a factor in the game,
spending much of her time riding a stationary bicycle behind the
Santa Clara led by 14 at halftime then opened the second half
with a 20-9 run to take control for good. Thomas made three
3-pointers during the stretch and the Broncos opened a 66-41 lead.
Santa Clara stretched the advantage to 71-48 before going
scoreless the next six minutes. Gonzaga responded with a 14-0 run
to pull within nine points, but couldn't get closer.
"With a team like Gonzaga, you can't play scared,'' said Cozad,
who was limited to seven games last season because of a knee
injury. "They rattled us a little bit at the end but we did a
tremendous job keeping our composure.''
Graham hadn't reached double figures since Jan. 8, but she had
three 3-pointers and made three free throws during a 21-9 run in
the first half that gave the Broncos a 37-26 lead.