BOULDER - Lexy Kresl wasn't expecting - and at the time perhaps wasn't equipped - to be a shut-down guard when she signed on with the Colorado women's basketball program. But 34 games into her freshman season, she's a different defender.
And in the final frantic seconds Thursday night at the Coors Events Center, she applied just enough pressure to pop the surprising Buffaloes into the quarterfinals of the WNIT.
Kresl forced Villanova's Devon Kane to miss a difficult final-second layup from the left side, allowing CU to escape with a 48-47 win. The Buffs (21-13) will play at Oklahoma State, a former Big 12 Conference adversary, on Sunday (11:30 a.m., MDT).
"That was a fun game," CU coach Linda Lappe said. "We knew it was going to be low scoring, with not many possessions. For our team to bear down defensively and get stops, then score . . . I loved how gutsy we were, I loved our tenacity."
And Lappe obviously loved Kresl's 'D' after veteran Villanova coach Harry Perretta had called a timeout with 7 seconds remaining and given instructions to isolate Kane on Kresl for a potential game-winning drive.
"I realized they were going to 'iso' me and I was a little nervous," said Kresl, who finished with five points. "Then I decided, let's do it . . . it shows I have worked a lot on defense this year and it proved I've gotten better."
Lappe called Perretta's decision to go at Kresl "kind of ironic" given that 6-2 freshman Emily Leer had scored 10 of Villanova's last 14 points - she finished with a team-best 16 - and had the hot hand. "I thought they would go to 55 (Leer)," Lappe said. "But he's a smart coach; he played for the mismatch. It was a good move on his part."
But a better move on Kresl's part. She was challenged and stepped up - and Lappe was glad: "She's taken pride in her defense . . . I don't know if she would have wanted it any other way. She stayed in front and provided a hand (in Kane's face). It showed toughness on her part."
It was a night where toughness was demanded from the Buffs, who went through a 61/2-minute second-half drought that allowed the Wildcats (19-15) to catch and surpass them with a 13-0 run and go ahead 31-29 on two free throws by Kane with 10:15 to play.
But that would be Villanova's final lead. Chuck Jeffery scored 11 of her game-high 19 points in the final 9:10 to keep the Wildcats at bay. Jeffery also collected a career-high 17 rebounds for her ninth double-double of the season.
Jeffery was the only CU player in double figures, but eight of the nine players Lappe used responded with points. Meagan Malcolm-Peck topped that group with eight.
CU outscored Villanova 32-16 in the paint, 8-0 on fast breaks and scored 10 points off of the Wildcats' 12 turnovers. But the Buffs were a precarious 7-of-15 from the free throw line.
The Buffs outrebounded the Wildcats 42-27, mainly because Perretta's "fire-and-fall-back" approach sends no one to the glass. Jeffery, whose final rebound was on Kane's final miss, said Villanova's philosophy made it "really easy for me to go in and grab the boards . . . that's my instinct; I like to go in there and scrap for the ball. And they weren't crashing on offense."
The Wildcats played their second game without leading scorer (14.4 points) and rebounder (7.6) Laura Sweeney, a 6-2 junior. She suffered a hand injury in the first-round win against American University and did not play at Illinois State.
But Lappe was leery nevertheless. "They are so well-coached, they don't give in easily," she said. "I knew we weren't going to win by 10 or 15 points."
Indeed, the first 20 minutes produced a 16-15 CU lead, very few highlights and probably a few yawns from the crowd of 1,724. CU's 16 first-half points were its second-lowest of the season at home, while Villanova's 15 points were a season low. The 31 points by both teams was the lowest combined since records have been kept in CU women's basketball.
After committing a season-low nine turnovers in their 64-55 win at South Dakota, the Buffs had nine at halftime Thursday night - and that number exceeded their made field goals by four (7-of-22). Villanova committed six first-half turnovers - matching its field goal total (6-of-26).
But CU settled down after intermission, committing just four second-half turnovers and for the most part executing its offense. Lappe said the only second-half changeup "was our mentality. I told the team I loved our grit, our determination. We were playing great on defense, doing everything the right way but on offense we didn't have the same tenacity that we had on defense . . .
"I knew we were going to need to score, and I felt like we got that. It started with Chucky and filtered down to the rest of the team. Chucky made some great plays when we needed a basket. I thought our passers did a great job of finding her and she came through."
Villanova had averaged nine made threes during Big East Conference play, but was allowed six in 20 attempts by CU. At halftime, the Wildcats were 2-of-9 from behind the arc. "That was an emphasis to not let them get that many three-pointers," Jeffery said. "Coach said they were going to hit five or six and we kept them at six, so it says a lot about our defense."
Something had to change in the second half for both teams, and the Buffs made sure it did in their favor. They opened with an 11-2 run to take a 10-point (27-17) advantage when Kresl hit a three-pointer - CU's only one of the game in 10 tries - with 16:40 remaining.
The Buffs moved in front by 11 (29-18) on a Jeffery layup before the Wildcats responded with their 13-0 run. During that CU drought, Jeffery said, "We lost our composure a little bit. We got tentative and started shooting the ball out of rhythm. We had to regroup and slow down."
The Buffs had gone 6:34 without a point, but they scored two baskets in quick succession by Jeffery and Ashley Wilson to recapture the lead (33-31). A jumper in the lane by Jasmine Sborov pushed it to 35-31 with 7:40 left and elicited a timeout by Perretta.
It did little good, and when Jeffery hit a short jump shot the Buffs had completed an 8-0 run and gone ahead 37-31. But CU couldn't hold that advantage.
Back-to-back baskets by Leer - the second a three-pointer - pulled Villanova to within 41-38 with 3:23 remaining. A layup by Meagan Pearson made it 41-40, but that was as close as the Wildcats got.
CU got a layup and a free throw from Jeffery, another lay-in by Julie Seabrook, followed by an acrobatic move in the lane by Jeffery to go ahead 48-44.
But 'Nova wouldn't roll. Out of a timeout, Leer came off a screen and hit a trey from the top of the key to close to 48-47 with 1:12 to play. Jeffery missed with half a minute remaining, Villanova rebounded and called timeout with 9.3 seconds left. A mishandled in-bounds pass and a near turnover prompted another 'Nova timeout with 7 seconds showing, and Perretta set his strategy.
The Wildcats' final shot was Kane's missed layup from the left side with just over a second to play. The Buffs had escaped and were headed back to Big 12 country.
"We've wanted to play (Oklahoma State)," CU guard Brittany Wilson said. "Of course, they are completely different team and so are we. We've been doing really well on the road and playing our staple, defense . . . . We just have to keep playing defense like we've been doing and we'll be fine."