Eight games into the non-league portion of the basketball season and the Santa Clara Bruins look very much like a top contender in the El Camino League. The Bruins are off to a 5-3 start, which could easily have been 6-2. Santa Clara lost at Westmont on Nov. 28 by the slimmest of margins, 39-38.
On Tuesday, they dominated the Andrew Hill Falcons for the second time this season. The first victory over the Falcons was a 53-30 tournament win. This time around, Santa Clara nearly prevented the Falcons from scoring less than half as many points, winning by an even more comfortable margin at 43-16.
In their past two games, the Bruins have allowed just 16 and 13 points, out-scoring opponents by a combined score of 79-29.
“If they scored only 16, our defense must have been pretty good,” joked Bruins Head Coach Deedee Kiyota when asked if she was prouder of the 43 or the 16 in the final score. “Obviously we love to score points but holding them to 16 is a credit to our defense, I thought we played really good defense.”
Arguably the Bruins’ best defender is guard Vanessa Calvillo. The senior twice made impressive hustle plays on defense in the second half, despite the game being well in hand. In one instance, Calvillo hustled back to strip a Falcons player from behind on what looked like a fast break. On another play, Calvillo bailed herself out after a turnover by managing to get a shot block on what appeared to be a wide open two-on-one fast break.
“She’s a really valuable player. Every team needs a person like that. No matter what, whether we are down by 20 or up by 20, she still works hard,” chimed starting backcourt teammate Nina Llamas. “She picks us up and makes us work if we’re not playing as hard as we should be.”
“Definitely, I feel like it pumps all of us up even more,” responded sophomore center Mia Talalele when asked if Calvillo’s tenacious energy percolates through the rest of the team. “She doesn’t stop until the game is over.”
“There is no quit in her. She’s a competitor until the end in any sport that she plays,” echoed coach Kiyota on her defensive leader. “She’s the athlete that you kind of want all athletes to be molded after, you know? Her knowledge of sports in general, her leadership, her effort and desire are awesome. She may not score a lot of points, but she’s the spark plug.”
With Calvillo and Llamas in the backcourt and Talalele now around six feet tall and stronger than a year ago, the Bruins can beat teams in multiple ways. Double team Talalele in the paint and the Bruins have the shooters and outside ball movement to drain plenty of threes. Take away the outside shooters, and Talalele will win most of her battles when posting up inside.
“If Mia gets the ball and they double her, then we have the shooters on the outside. If our shooters are hot, the defense will pull out and then Mia has the open space,” remarked Coach Kiyota. “So, it’s a really good thing to have shooters and a strong big.”
Santa Clara will look to keep their hot start going when they next play at home against Live Oak on Friday, Dec. 23.