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Portland tops Santa Clara 74-70 in WCC Tournament second round

Mar. 1, 2012

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Sophomore Cassandra Brown had a career-high 32 points, senior Natalie Day registered her seventh double-double of the season and the Portland Pilots advanced past the Santa Clara Broncos 90-76 in the second round of the WCC Championships at the Orleans Arena on Thursday. Brown becomes the first 30-point scorer for Portland since 2009.

The win allows the No. 7 seeded Pilots (12-19) to advance to the quarterfinals, where they'll face the No. 3 San Diego Toreros on Friday afternoon. Tip-off will be 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first quarterfinal match-up, or approximately 2 p.m.

The 32 points by Brown fell just two points shy of the WCC tournament record for points in a game, which Santa Clara's Caroline Gruening accomplished back in 2002. Laiken Dollente was the last Portland Pilot to score 30 points when she notched 31 on Dec. 21, 2009.

Brown's previous career high was 22 points, which came earlier this season.

"I just wanted to be aggressive," said Brown following the win. "Santa Clara stole two games from us this season, so we wanted to get one back. Hopefully we can come out tomorrow with a lot of energy."

17 points of Brown's points came in the first half, which helped the Pilots to a 44-31 lead at the break. Portland would push the lead to 14 three minutes into the second half when Kari Luttinen buried a three-pointer.

But Santa Clara refused to falter, climbing back within six points three times. The first time the Broncos made it a six-point game, Brown hit a big three and Day forced a SCU turnover before making a pair from the line, pushing the lead back to 60-49.

The final time Santa Clara was within six came with Portland leading 64-48 and 9:16 to play. That's when the Pilots quickly scored eight unanswered points to push the lead back to 14-points with 5:34 showing on the clock.

A jumper from Alyssa Shoji momentarily pulled Santa Clara within single digits with 4:05 remaining, but Portland held strong and soon claimed a 15-point lead after Day converted a lay-up.

The 90 points are a season high for the Pilots, who shot 43 percent for the game and 53 percent (11-for-21) on three-pointers. The Pilots were also 23 of 34 from the free throw line.

SCU shot 43 percent, hit 10 three-pointers and was 20 of 30 at the line.

Day had a big second half, finishing with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Day, a first-team All-WCC selection, has scored in double figures during every game this season.

"Natalie has been probably the best offensive rebounder that I've ever coached in my 26 years at Portland," said head coach Jim Sollars. "We felt that if we could out-rebound Santa Clara, we'd be fine."

The Pilots did out-rebound the Broncos 43-35 with 20 of those boards coming on the offensive end. Day and Brown each had five offensive rebounds.

Sophomore Alexis Byrd also had a solid game for the Pilots, finishing with 14 points, six assists and four rebounds. Byrd was aggressive early, scoring six quick points to begin the game. The Pilots led for most of the first half before entering the locker room with the 13-point lead.

NaKeisha Brown just did beat the halftime buzzer with a reverse lay-up to give Portland its biggest lead to that point.

"It's nice to win," noted Sollars. "I'm really proud of our team for hanging in there. This season we've lost a lot of games in the last minute, minute and a half, so it was nice to hold on."

The Pilots made the most of Santa Clara's (12-18) 17 turnovers, turning those miscues into 30 points. The Broncos scored just 11 points off of 13 Portland turnovers.

UP also held a 34-14 advantage in points in the paint, and posted a 21-9 edge in second chance points.

Shoji led the way for the sixth-seeded Broncos with 25 points.

This will be the third meeting this year between Portland and San Diego. The Toreros won both of the previous games, claiming a 72-66 win at San Diego and a 51-46 victory in the regular season finale in Portland.

-Courtesy of POR Athletics