SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — All the playing time players like Willie Caruso and Trey Wertz got as freshman last season at Santa Clara is paying off early this year.
Caruso had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Wertz scored 18 to help Santa Clara wrap up a perfect three-game homestand to start the season with a 70-62 victory over Washington State on Tuesday night.
"One of the silver linings of our situation last season is some of our young guys were really baptized through fire right out of the gate," coach Herb Sendek said. "Those guys gained some good experience. Now we've been able to add another wave of newcomers that gives us more depth than we had in the past."
The Broncos (3-0) followed up wins over Division III UC Santa Cruz and Cal Poly by pulling away from the Cougars (1-1) in the second half as they opened the season with three straight wins for the first time since going 5-0 in 2012-13.
"We knew we had a tough schedule but we knew we were a completely different team from last year," Caruso said. "We just tried to do the stuff we do every day in practice and bring the energy. It's great to be 3-0."
Isaac Bonton scored 19 points and CJ Elleby added 10 but Washington State struggled offensively in coach Kyle Smith's second game on the job.
The game turned in a stretch beginning early in the second half when the Cougars couldn't buy a basket. Santa Clara used an 8-0 run over a span of more than six minutes as Washington State went 0-for-8 from the field with four turnovers.
"We were down four and played like we were down 14," Smith said. "That can happen on the road. We learn our lesson and get better."
Wertz capped that spurt with a layup that made it 54-44 before Bonton hit back-to-back layups. The Broncos answered with a 9-1 run capped by a layup by Caruso that made it 63-49.
Santa Clara made 6 of 8 shots to start the game before things tightened up defensively a bit. The Broncos still had the edge at the half when Tahj Eaddy made a 3-pointer in the closing seconds to make it 41-38 at the break.
Washington State: After scoring 27 points in the opener, Elleby shot just 4 for 14 this game before fouling out. His night got off to a bad start when he was called for an offensive foul for kicking out his leg, negating a made 3-pointer. That was one of 14 turnovers for the Cougars, who had just three in the season opener. Washington Stat shot 33% overall.
Santa Clara: The Broncos came into this season with high hopes after returning their top five scorers from a team that went 16-15 a year ago. They hoped to get off to a fast start with seven of their first eight games at home and have done that so far, even getting a win against a Pac-12 team.
Washington State: Host Idaho State on Sunday.
Santa Clara: Visit Stanford on Saturday night.
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