Santa Clara University senior guard Caroline Gruening of Juneau set two more West Coast Conference tournament records, but it wasn't enough to lead the Broncos to the tourney title Sunday in San Diego.
Top-seeded Pepperdine claimed the championship with an 81-77 victory, earning the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Santa Clara, 21-9, will have to wait until this Sunday to find out if it will claim one of the tourney's 33 at-large berths.
"I'd like to see 63 teams in the country better than we are," Santa Clara coach Chris Denker told the San Jose Mercury News. "There's some good basketball being played in the WCC. It's a good conference."
Santa Clara was picked to finish fifth in the conference at the start of the season, but finished the regular season in second place. The WCC has sent two teams to the NCAA tournament five times in the past eight years, and the conference's RPI is ranked higher than the Pac-10's. Santa Clara is 38th in the RPI rankings, while Pepperdine is 32nd.
Gruening, a pre-med student, didn't match her magical Friday night performance, when she scored a record 34 points and made a record eight 3-pointers as the Broncos edged St. Mary's 87-84 in the semifinals. But she did set two more tournament records on Sunday despite being one of the focal points of Pepperdine's defense.
Gruening finished the tournament with a record 12 3-pointers made and 24 3-pointers attempted over Santa Clara's three games. Gruening made the all-tournament team for her performance. For the regular season, Gruening was an honorable mention selection to the all-conference team and was a second-team choice on the academic all-District VIII team.
On Sunday, Gruening was guarded by Pepperdine's Damaris Hinojosa, who earned tournament MVP honors. Gruening was held to just seven points, three rebounds and three assists.
"Hinojosa did a great job on me, not giving me open looks," Gruening told the Mercury News. "When I did get open, I was so surprised that I was hesitant."
"Gruening really hurt us at their place, so we knew we couldn't just leave her," Pepperdine coach Mark Trakh said in a post-game press conference.
Trakh said Hinojosa has been fighting a bad back, which had affected her defense. He said he told her she'd have to contain Gruening if Pepperdine (23-7) was going to win.
"With her lower back, she's been struggling defensively," Trakh said of Hinojosa. "We said we know you're hurting, but you have to step up. You can't lose Gruening. I thought she really stepped up. She did a good job containing her (Gruening)."
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