By John Crumpacker
If it wasn’t the upset heard ‘round women’s college basketball, it certainly should be. Nothing else comes close this early in the season to Santa Clara’s stunning 61-58 victory at No. 13 Stanford on Monday night. Nothing else may come as close the rest of the season, for that matter.
“Big does not even begin to describe the enormity of being able to come in and compete with such a great team,’’ Santa Clara’s second-year coach, J.R. Payne, said on the school’s athletic web site. “A lot of our success came from our toughness. We focused on playing a great team game. This is a huge step for us.’’
Based on how the Broncos fared in two earlier games against supposedly lesser Pac-12 teams, no one would have expected Santa Clara to waltz into Maples Pavilion and even be competitive, much less leave with a program-defining win.
But that’s why they play the games, isn’t it? The Broncos were able to forget about losing 100-55 to Washington and 81-46 to USC and focus on an even more formidable task in order to get to 2-2.
“We were really bad that first weekend,’’ Payne said. “The Stanford win was a surprise to everybody because of those first two games. We weren’t ready for those first two games. We did not compete. We rolled over and died.’’
Payne said she imparted to her players a mentality of “there’s nothing to lose. Nobody is expecting us to win. Just go in and have fun and play hard’’ against Stanford. It worked, better than Payne or anybody could have expected.
“They came out totally fearless,’’ Payne said. “We won’t have the most talent in the gym every night but we’ll be the toughest.’’
Santa Clara forward Devin Hudson said, “Our coaches said, ‘Guys, we’re not supposed to win this game, so when you go into Stanford, have fun and play hard.’ That’s exactly what we did. What the coaches said gave us confidence. We had a speech and the coaches were talking about confidence and the things we do well individually and how we can bring it together as a team. It really transferred over to the court.’’
That’s for sure. Hudson, a 6-foot-3 senior graduate transfer from Long Beach State, had 12 points and eight rebounds. Forward Lori Parkinson had 11 points and nine boards. Forward Morgan McGwire, whose uncle is former Major League baseball star Mark McGwire, had 11 points and seven rebounds. And sneaky guard Savanna Hanson had five of her team’s 15 steals. Overall, the Broncos pestered Stanford into committing 26 turnovers.
It gets better. Santa Clara scored 24 points off turnovers (to eight for Stanford), had 26 bench points (to eight for Stanford) and recorded 34 points in the paint thanks to Hudson, Parkinson and McGwire (to 14 for Stanford).
Yep, that’s a team win, all right.
“Honestly, it was just team effort and toughness,’’ Hudson said. “All week our coaches were preaching toughness, get the loose balls and play defense. They helped us with confidence. They believed in us.’’
It’s up to the Broncos now to use this mega-dose of confidence to build momentum for the rest of their non-conference games before WCC league play begins on Dec. 21. Up next are games against host Cal Poly on Friday and Evansville on Saturday in the Cal Poly Holiday Tournament.
“I think going forward, being able to have this on film and watch the things we did right … gives you something to look forward to,’’ Hudson said. “We can do it if we stay determined. It’s something to learn from and build on.’’
Hudson’s timing is impeccable. After earning a communications studies degree at Long Beach State in four years, she had a graduate transfer year available and chose to use it at Santa Clara, where Hudson is in an accelerated master’s program in Educational Leadership and Administration.
“I settled on Santa Clara because I heard really good things about coach J.R. and coach T (Toriano Towns),’’ Hudson said. “I wanted to go somewhere where I knew coaches could turn programs around. Even if it is for one year, I wanted to be helpful any way I could contribute. That’s what I wanted to do. It’s (been) the easiest transition. They’re great, genuine people. They’re fun to play for.’’
Academically, Hudson is on a fast track to receive her master’s in one year. Her particular interest is in mental health issues involving student-athletes, who are often under greater stress at universities than their fellow students.
“Athletes do so much on and off the court,’’ she said. “A lot of people don’t feel they have someone to talk to, that they have to be mentally strong all the time. It’s OK to cry sometimes. I’m working on a project to interview the AD (athletics director Renee Baumgartner). She doesn’t know it yet. I’m really just starting this. My professors encouraged me to keep it up.’’
After the epic upset of Stanford, Hudson and her teammates have plenty of people to talk to now, most of whom want to know just how they pulled it off.
“This morning we were in the training room and we saw the volleyball team,’’ Hudson said. “They said, ‘Congrats, congrats. We can’t believe you beat Stanford.’ It’s a little surreal for everyone, not just us.’’
Until something bigger comes along, Santa Clara 61, Stanford 58 remains the upset of the year in women’s college basketball.
By the way
Payne was born Ali-Marie but has been known as J.R. ever since she was two years old. Here’s the why of it:
“When I was about two years old, I was a rough-and-tumble kid,’’ the coach said. “My dad started calling me ‘J.R.’ after J.R. Ewing (from the TV show Dallas). It stuck with me my whole life. Everyone calls me J.R. except my mother. Isn’t that funny?’’
Gonzaga’s men in control
Gonzaga showed how good it can be, and what it needs to do to become even better, in its 80-64 victory over Washington in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in Nassau, Bahamas, on Wednesday morning. Breakfast with the Zags was an appetizing way to begin the day for coach Mark Few’s team. Although far from perfect, the Zags established a comfortable lead in the first half and did not allow the Huskies to get closer than 12 points in the second half.
“We’re sharing the ball. We’re an unselfish team,’’ star forward Kyle Wiltjer said on the court after the ESPN telecast. “We’ve got to rebound a little better. If we’re playing like this, playing unselfish, we’ll be good.’’
Few chose to keep Domantis Sabonis on the bench at the start of the game in favor of versatile Kyle Dranginis while starting Wiltjer and Przemek Karnowski. As the game progressed, two of the big three (Karnowski, Wiltjer, Sabonis) were on the court at all times to present matchup problems for Washington.
The final stats showed Few made the right call. Wiltjer had 24 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes, Sabonis had 17 and 9 in 29 minutes and Karnowski 12 and 6 in 21 minutes. Meanwhile, the useful Dranginis played 33 minutes and contributed 5 points, 11 rebounds and 2 assists.
If its backcourt comes around and starts contributing more on the offensive end, Gonzaga will be even more formidable as the season progresses. Right now, guards Eric McClellan and Josh Perkins, who combined for 13 points against Washington, are serving as set-up men for that imposing front line.
Gonzaga next plays the winner of Wednesday night’s Texas-Texas Tech game in the Atlantis tourney.
John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.