Spartan Notes: San Jose State men open season with thud at Santa Clara

san_jose_stateIt’s almost a tradition this point for San Jose State basketball fans: See team take on Santa Clara, watch them lose in gut-wrenching fashion, hope the rest of the season doesn’t turn out to be a string of games like that, be disappointed when it does.

This year? This year was no different.

In keeping with recent history, Santa Clara beat a young and inexperienced Spartans squad at the Leavey Center, 89-77, on Tuesday night. This was after the San Jose State women posted a quality win for its first real win of the season by beating the Broncos, 97-93, a team that had beaten them at home convincingly last year.

Jaleel Williams led the men with 20 points, with Rashad Muhammad adding 15 and Chris Cunningham putting in 12. The senior also led the team with seven rebounds.

Some other observations about the game:

  • Shooting has been a problem for the Spartans. The Spartans laid bricks in throughout the first 20 minutes, shooting under 30 percent, allowing the Broncos to build a 14-point lead by halftime and never look back. In two of three games so far, they have been undone by long spells of poor shooting (against Cal State Monterey Bay, they shot just 32.2 percent for the game and took every ill-advised 3-point attempt you could imagine.)
  • The Spartans had just 12 assists in this game, with one player (DJ Brown) dishing out half of them. Santa Clara had 15 in the game. From my vantage point, through the exhibitions and the first game, the Spartans ball movement goes downhill when they are down, and that’s just backwards. I suspect that will change as this group becomes more familiar with one another.
  • This is a second half team. They have fallen behind big time twice before making a fevered comebacks that have fallen short. Minimizing damage in the first half is going to need to become a priority if the trend continues.

A rivalry that isn’t really a rivalry

The San Jose State men have beaten Santa Clara just five times since the Event Center opened in 1989, with four of those wins (1989, 1991 January 2008, 2009) at the Leavey Center. Only once have the Spartans beaten Santa Clara at home, in 1996 with the Spartans coming off their last NCAA tournament appearance and a Big West Conference tournament crown.

They’ve played every year except one in that time frame (1995), but played twice in the 2007-2008 season, a season split with each team winning on the road.

The Santa Clara-San Jose State rivalry is becoming like the football one with Stanford: Less rivalry, more early-season freebie for the opponent against a school that happens to be within a short drive.

About that women’s game …

San Jose State trailed by five at the half, in part because they shot just 33 percent from the field, but was able to put together a big second half. Ta’Rea Cunnigan was a scoring force in this game, scoring 29 points to lead everyone.

But it was the play of Britta Hall, a freshman from Oregon, down the stretch that proved critical. With San Jose State’s lead just two in the waning seconds, she stole the ball from a Santa Clara player to force the Broncos to foul and essentially ending the game.

Cunnigan wasn’t the only one with a big game. Classye James put in 16 points by going 10 for 10 from the free-throw line, Rebecca Woodberry added 15 points and hit three 3 pointers, Hall added eight points and Jayzyl Tauala hit the two all-important free-throws at the end of the game to seal the victory.

The only question mark comes from the team’s defense, especially considering Santa Clara appeared to be able to move the ball and score at will (27 assists, 93 points).

Last year’s squad won just once in 15 tries on the road or on a neutral court, but was a strong 10-5 at home. If this year’s squad, with several returners from last year back, can pick up a few games on the road, even if its just five or six, they could be looking at a .500 season or better.

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