Wisconsin's starting backcourt combined for 71 points as UW survived the Broncos' 14 of 34 3-point shooting to pull out a 104-91 victory and remain undefeated at home this season.
"It was like playing HORSE out there for a while," Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said.
Yes it was. The Badgers made 37 of 71 shots (52.1 percent); the Broncos 35 of 73 (47.9 percent). Santa Clara made 14 of its first 28 triples before missing its last six 3-point attempts in the final four minutes of the game, allowing Wisconsin to close the game on a 13-2 run.
"Obviously when you give up 104 points it doesn't show much on the defensive end and you don't give yourself much of a chance to win a ball game," Santa Clara coach Michelle Bento-Jackson said. The Broncos fell to 3-5 with the loss.
"I'm proud of the outcome because we held on," Stone said. "Inside of three minutes… we played to win. We got the rebounds and the stops when it counted."
Wisconsin's guard trio paved the way to its third straight win. Freshman guard Jolene Anderson led all scorers and matched her career high with 29 points, classmate Janese Banks set a career high with 23 and senior guard Stephanie Rich added 19.
"Steph, Janese and Jolene did a great job of attacking the basket even when overplayed and not living and dying by the 3," Stone said. "Making sure we got a high percentage shot. If we didn't score, we still got fouled."
The Badgers (5-4) led for nearly the entire game and had their way with Santa Clara offensively, but struggled defensively. Bronco sophomore guard Ashley Graham scored a career-high 27 points and hit 5 of 10 triples while senior guard Quinn Thomas managed a career best 25 points, connecting on 5 of 13 3-pointers.
Thomas entered the game shooting just 36 percent but connected on 8 of 17 shots Thursday. As a team, Santa Clara set Kohl Center records for 3-pointers made and attempted.
"It will be a fun game to watch, it's a good game to win, but we certainly don't want to give up 91 points a game," Stone said.
While the Broncos' four-guard set thrived along the perimeter, the Badgers dominated inside, out-rebounding Santa Clara 51-28 and scoring 19 second-chance points off 19 offensive rebounds. The Badgers also made 25 of 33 free throws compared to the Broncos' 7 of 12.
"We're just kicking ourselves in the rear when we give up second opportunities like that," Bento-Jackson said.
"I didn't want to go to a four-guard approach. I almost did," Stone said. "I'm pretty confident in our post players guarding the perimeter. I thought instead of us matching up with them, have them match up with us."
Wisconsin looked close to putting the game away on a few occasions, but each time Santa Clara shot itself back into the game with one 3-pointer after another. That long-range extravagance, however, collapsed in the game's closing minutes.
Graham's fifth triple pulled Santa Clara within 91-89 with 3:51 left in the game, but she missed her next three attempts, as the Broncos were errant on their last six 3s. Thomas also missed a pair in that stretch.
"That is one of our strengths," Bento-Jackson said. "However, in the second half, I thought we relied solely on the 3-point shooting. Some of it was given the opportunity due to penetration, which is good, but we've got to get ourselves to the free throw line as well and we've got to get the ball inside."
Wisconsin pulled ahead 104-89 before Graham converted a layup to close out the scoring.
"We took very good care of the ball," Stone said. "You notice our stat sheet says 5 for 10 from the 3-point line…We're not living and dying by it. We went to the basket and got to the free throw line. There's the difference."
The Badgers led 35-22 lead late in the first half before a Graham triple kicked off a 15-4 Bronco run. Thomas capped the spurt with a 3-pointer of her own to make it 39-37 with 4:15 left.
The Badgers, though, clung to a 46-44 lead at halftime and pulled ahead 55-51 on an Anderson triple.
"We knew Jolene Anderson is a phenomenal player, especially as a freshman," Bento-Jackson said. "She was being extremely explosive in the first half, getting herself to the basket. When you do that you are going to open up your outside game even more."
Thomas and Graham, however, made back-to-back 3s to give Santa Clara its first lead, 57-55, since a 2-0 edge in the first minute of play.
Banks, though, hit a pair of free throws, Rich hit a triple and Banks knocked down a pull-up jumper on the baseline to give UW a 62-57 edge.
The Broncos had a golden opportunity midway through the second half, but missed four consecutive layups to preserve a 72-69 Badger lead.
Banks scored seven points in the final minute and added a career-high nine rebounds.
Anderson tallied a game-high six assists, including one that led to a Banks 3-point play with 11 seconds left, when Anderson knew she could have scored herself and topped 30 points for the first time in her young career. She also had eight rebounds.
The Badgers now enter a two-week hiatus before commencing Big Ten play Dec. 30 when Purdue graces the Kohl Center.
"It's just really nice to have some confidence going into finals," Rich said. "You can actually really feel good about where this team is headed."
Wisconsin scored 100 or more points for the 17th time in school history, and for the first time since a 102-49 win over Elon Nov. 19, 2000….Thursday's 104-point tally was the most for the Badgers since a 107-85 win over Siena March 14, 1999….The most points ever scored by a UW team is 123, against Bradley, Dec. 5, 1982.