Playing some of their best basketball of the season, UC Santa Cruz held their own against 16th-ranked Wheaton (Illinois) to open the UCSC Thanksgiving Classic, but the visitors were able to hit their free-throws and make timely stops down the stretch to escape with a 73-70 win Friday afternoon.
UC Santa Cruz (2-5) were led by Ashley Kowack's 20 points.
The game opened with Wheaton staking a 5-0 lead, but the Banana Slugs slowly found their touch, and ended the quarter within 1 at 17-16 on Amanda Inserra's buzzer-beating putback layup. The game was back-and forth in the second quarter, with four ties and four lead changes before it ended 34-all.
In the third, back-to-back threes by CJ Catina and Kowack were part of an 8-0 run that put UCSC up 45-39 and forced Wheaton to take a timeout with 5:14 left in the quarter.
Wheaton responded out of the timeout with a 12-0 run to retake the lead at 51-45 with 2:09 left. The Banana Slugs answered with another three from Catina to get back within 51-48, but Wheaton answered with a 7-2 run to go into the last quarter up 58-50.
In the fourth, UCSC tried to make a run, but the Thunder answered every time and never gave up the lead again, closing the game going 9-10 from the foul line. UCSC's last points came on Murphy's putback layup with 0.3 seconds left, leaving no time for a steal once Wheaton inbounded to end the game.
Hannah Frazier led Wheaton (6-1) with 38 points, 22 in the second half. She added 13 rebounds and 3 steals. Overall, the Thunder went 22-29 (75.9%) on free-throws, compared to 13-20 (65%) by the Banana Slugs.
Kowack hit three three-pointers in the game, moving past Lissa Shuman (1995-99) into the top ten in the UCSC career threes-made with 82. Kaylee Murphy grabbed her third double-double of the season with 16 points and 18 rebounds along with a team-high 4 assists. Both Kowack and Murphy had three blocks. Murphy now has 52 rejections in her career, passing Geena Giovannetti (2012-15) for 9th on the school career chart. Catina added 11 points with 3-of-6 shooting from three-point territory and Savannah Henson scored 10 off the bench.
UCSC closes the Classic Sunday at the West Field House against Birmingham Southern.