It would have been easy for the Santa Clara Broncos to throw in the towel when it comes to facing bigger, faster and stronger opponents. After two somewhat demoralizing losses to Pac-12 foes University of Washington and University of Southern California, Santa Clara, under the direction of Head Coach JR Payne, bounced back for what would be the program's first win over Stanford since 1998.
"Of course it feels fabulous, and everybody is over the moon about the win," Payne commented. "But more so than just the win, I'm really excited about how we played the game. We talked a lot about just sticking to the fundamentals of our program- outworking our opponents, playing hard, being tough- we had nothing to lose."
The Broncos had Tara VanDerveer's squad on their heels for much of the game, leading by as many as 10 points. For the 6'3 senior forward and Long Beach State transfer Devin Hudson, everything felt right heading into Maples Pavilion, and it showed.
After Santa Clara turned the ball over 30 plus times in its first two contests, the Broncos drastically improved in this category. With just 13 turnovers to Stanford's 26 in Monday's (Nov. 23) upset, composure was undoubtedly deemed a difference maker.
"We wanted to slow things down and be more patient," Payne said. "It's pretty rare for a team as disciplined as Stanford to have 26 turnovers, but our pressure and being in passing lanes worked in our favor. We were able to capitalize on those turnovers and be more aggressive, which really helped us in the end."
Off the bench, Hudson led the Broncos with 12 points shooting 5-10 from the field and a perfect 2-2 from the free throw line. She was one of three players in double figures alongside Lori Parkinson and Morgan McGwire with 11 points apiece. As Hudson alluded to, Payne's squad had a renewed sense of focus in facing Stanford, which ultimately allowed them to keep their cool down the stretch.
"The biggest part that honestly helped me throughout the game were the coaches," Hudson noted. "If they have a calm demeanor about them, it just gives us players more confidence. If they aren't sweating it, then why should we?"
With that said, teams can't win basketball games without putting the ball in the hole, and the Broncos certainly did that when it mattered most. Despite a 15-minute stoppage due to shot clock issues, any momentum swing that was happening, or about to happen, was put to a halt. Long story short: Santa Clara took the delay with a grain of salt, and despite a 6-0 run by Stanford, captured the lead heading into the final quarter.
This level of grit and belief will certainly serve Santa Clara well moving forward. To take down a ranked opponent, on their home floor, is a feat that very few mid-major programs are able to do. In Payne's brief two-year tutelage with the Broncos, upsetting Stanford was not unfamiliar territory. Last season, she led her team to an upset over LSU. This was the first time in almost 20 years Santa Clara walked away victorious against an SEC opponent.
Not only does the win over Stanford speak volumes for the direction Santa Clara is headed under Payne's direction, but it is also a testament to the West Coast Conference as a whole. It wasn't long until Payne's inbox was filled with congratulatory messages from other coaches in the conference.
"When any of our teams do well, it's a win for all of us," Payne said. "It's a good thing for everybody and it will only help our conference moving forward."
The Broncos will look to carry this momentum with them into the remainder of the 2015-16 campaign. Great teams find ways to win and Santa Clara did exactly that by getting every player involved. Behind Hudson, Parkinson and McGwire, the Broncos found their rhythm at the right time.
"Everybody contributed and that was the difference," Hudson said. "There was never a drop off defensively or offensively when people were subbed in and out. Everybody was ready."
"I'm really hoping this is the turning point for our team," Payne commented. "There's always that concern about having a hangover the next game, but we are excited about the potential of this group. I'm really proud of their effort. Now it's a matter of letting this win springboard us into the rest of the season."