Something has gone haywire with American's vaunted press.

Santa Clara used a variety of passes and easily broke the Eagles' press, shooting 71 percent in beating American, 90-72, to win the Cable Car Classic before 2,732 in Toso Pavilion.

Mark Nickens of AU led all scorers with 23 points.

The fact that Santa Clara beat AU's press so easily bothered Tapscott no end. Instead of the customary game-day shoot-around, Tapscott had held a special practice to work on defense, which he had seen faltering during the previous night's victory over North Carolina-Charlotte.

"We actually worked on those things earlier today, if you can believe it," he said.

"I didn't think we could blow them out," said Santa Clara's Harold Keeling, who scored 21 points, mostly on layups. "I thought they'd play better and keep it closer than it was. But when they got a basket, they didn't get anybody back and we'd throw long over the press to score."

"It was bombs away," said AU Coach Ed Tapscott, in what he called "the post-mortem."

The Broncos broke open a two-point game by outscoring favored American, 16-5, the last 10 minutes of the first half.

The Eagles, who will play Maryland Jan. 3, dropped to 6-3 while host Santa Clara moved to 10-3. It lost to Louisville, North Carolina and Southern California.

Keeling, a 6-3 guard who scored 20 points against Texas, led in the early going. His steal from Andre Adams and a layup at the other end gave the Broncos an 11-8 lead. Keeling countered Juan Jones with a 15-footer for a 13-10 lead, and his next basket increased Santa Clara's margin to 22-18 with 13:08 to play before halftime.

Nickens, who had 12 first-half points, kept it close with long-range jumpers. But Santa Clara's dominance inside proved more effective.

With the Broncos leading, 28-24, they went to the spread offense to pull American out of its 1-2-2 and 2-3 zone defenses. American aggressively tried to trap the ball handler, but Santa Clara thrived on the pressure.

Nick Vanos, a 7-foot sophomore center, entered the game and scored inside for a 32-28 Bronco lead. Vanos missed the front of a bonus foul shooting set, but got the ball back after a missed shot by AU, and again scored a layup.

AU's Steve Nesmith committed an offensive foul, and Vanos made both foul shots this time for a 40-32 lead with 4:28 left in the half.

Tapscott continually berated the officials for not calling offensive fouls against Vanos, who at 245 pounds, was clearly pushing his way around inside the lane. And he was warned to limit his complaining.

Nickens pulled AU within 40-34 with a jumper. But Vanos, on a third offensive rebound attempt, made the layup for a 42-34 lead. AU's Fernando Aunon missed an open layup and Santa Clara continued to work the ball inside.

Tapscott, thinking the officials had missed another offensive foul, seemed to go crazy, and was assessed a technical foul by Jim Loustalot. Terry Davis made the foul shots and the Broncos led, 44-34, with 3:07 left in the half.

It got worse for AU.

Tapscott, no doubt, had some choice words at halftime for his Eagles about their defense, or lack of it.

He also had some choice words for the officials. Neither helped.