Santa Clara 77, Bucknell 68
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP)—Dick Davey held an hour-long practice Thursday morning to go over some of Santa Clara’s problem areas.
The coach saw a different team later in the day.
Travis Niesen had 24 points and the Broncos snapped Bucknell’s four-game winning streak with a 77-68 victory in the championship game of the Cable Car Classic.
“We’re all kind of happy,” Davey said. “To perform at a pretty high level gives us some incentive that we’re capable of maybe doing some better things. … We were pretty darn good defensively.”
Freshman Calvin Johnson added 16 points, five rebounds, two assists and made four 3-pointers before fouling out, and the Broncos used quick passing and efficient defense to capture their first Cable Car title since 2002.
Santa Clara lost both games in its own event last season.
“It means a lot,” Niesen said. “It’s our tournament and last year was a little bit of an embarrassment.”
The sloppy Bison (9-2) missed a chance at the school’s best start in 79 years. Bucknell also began the season 9-1 in 1956-57 and hasn’t won 10 of its first 11 games since 1926-27. The Bison beat Syracuse in November and their only previous loss was to No. 3 Villanova, 79-60, on Dec. 6.
Kevin Bettencourt scored 17 points with five 3-pointers and Charles Lee added 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals for the Bison, who came in shooting 51.1 percent on the season but were held to 43.4 percent and turned the ball over 16 times.
Bucknell made an impact last March when it became the first team from the Patriot League to win a game in the NCAA tournament with an upset victory over Kansas. The Bison have the same starting lineup this season and are determined to make another postseason run.
Leading scorer Chris McNaughton picked up his fourth foul with 11:57 left, but returned and finished with 17 points and five rebounds.
“They were really physical and did a great job scouting us,” Lee said. “Our defense wasn’t on par tonight.”
Niesen, Santa Clara’s top scorer and floor leader, earned MVP honors and did more than just score. He found a cutting Mitch Henke for a layup at 12:27, then scored consecutive baskets—including one as the shot clock expired—for a 54-47 lead after John Griffin’s 3 had pulled Bucknell within five. Johnson hit a big 3 from the top on the Broncos’ next possession.
Santa Clara (7-5) has been struggling recently, reaching the final with a 63-61 victory over winless UC Riverside on Wednesday. This win—the team’s biggest of the season—should give the Broncos a boost heading into the West Coast Conference schedule next week. They shot 55.3 percent.
“It’s a huge boost,” Niesen said. “We have a week off until we start league and we’re going to have a good week of practice to get prepared.”
Bettencourt hit a 3 at the buzzer to pull the Bison within 37-26 at halftime.
“In the first half we were a little impatient,” Bucknell coach Pat Flannery said. “They knocked us out of some things we were trying to do.”