BOULDER - Colorado scored 71 points Thursday night but came up short on style points. No matter. UC-Riverside checked in with 62 and immediately checked out of the WNIT.
"I'm happy we got the win, but we were definitely not as sharp as we could have been," said CU Coach Linda Lappe, who gets to bring her team back to the Coors Events Center on Monday (7 p.m.) to face future Pac-12 opponent California in the second round of the 64-team tournament.
"We're excited," Lappe continued. "It doesn't matter how you do it. You survive and advance and play as many games as you can."
So the Buffs (16-15) survived at the expense of the Highlanders (19-13). Rusty from not having played in nine days and bothered by UC-Riverside's motion offense, CU allowed a 19-point second-half lead to be trimmed to two before regaining its composure and restoring a double-digit advantage in the final 1:36.
Senior Brittany Spears and sophomore Chucky Jeffery each had a double-double to lead the Buffs. Spears scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, while Jeffery added 19 and 12.
"It feels good . . . it wasn't the prettiest thing, but it feels good to get a win," said Jeffery, who scored eight of CU last 11 points, including four-of-six free throws in the final 1:48.
On two occasions when the Highlanders had cut the Buffs' lead to two - 58-56 and 60-58 - Jeffery responded with baskets to keep the Big West Conference visitors at bay. Her biggest shot - about a 15-foot jumper - came at the 3:38 mark with the shot clock ticking toward zero.
"I thought Jeffery made a really tough shot to put them up by four," UC-Riverside Coach John Margaritis said. "We closed the gap, but they made a couple of shots and we didn't - and it changed the game."
Sophomore Meagan Malcolm-Peck, who scored five of her seven points in the second half (she also had three rebounds, three assists and two steals), said despite the Buffs losing their large lead, they never lost confidence.
"We were all confident, even when they made that run," she said. "It was like, 'OK guys get it back together because we're not losing this one.'"
Full-court pressure helped UC-Riverside cut into CU's 19-point advantage. The Buffs, however, claimed they had seen more troublesome presses in the Big 12 Conference and that they were blame for the bulk of their 21 turnovers.
Lappe pointed to ball-pressure by Highlanders' guard Tre'Shonti Nottingham, who had three of her team's 10 steals: "She's very quick and did a nice job . . . but down the stretch, in the last two minutes, we did a better job of handling it than early on."
Lappe said playing Cal, which disposed of Cal Poly 74-60 Thursday night, "would give us a preview (of the Pac-12)," but added, "We're excited whoever we play . . . we're happy for a home game and happy to be playing on Monday."
Added Jeffery: "I don't really think the opponent matters, because we're still going to come out and have a game plan that we'll follow, and we're going to play our game."
The Buffs held a six-point halftime lead despite hitting only two field goals in the game's first 10 minutes. But they compensated for that 2-for-17 shooting from the field by going five-of-six from the free throw line during that frigid span.
The biggest lead the Highlanders could manage during the Buffs' cold snap was 9-5.
Over the half's final 10 minutes, CU heated up enough to forge its six-point halftime lead. A Jeffery jumper at the 9:33 mark pushed the Buffs up 14-13, and CU increased its lead to 23-28 and 25-20 before UC-Riverside pulled to within a point (25-24).
But Spears answered with her third trey of the half, and Jeffery added a layup in the final minute to put the Buffs up 30-24 at the break. Spears finished the half with nine points, Jeffery seven.
CU wound up shooting 44.0 percent from the field (22-of-50) to UC-Riverside's 34.5 percent (20-of-58). The Buffs outrebounded the Highlanders 49-29 and outscored them 22-18 in the paint and 32-21 off the bench.
CU scored the first five points of the second half - another Spears trey, a Jeffery layup - and took its first double-figure lead, 35-24. But that was merely the beginning.
In the half's first 6:08, the Buffs outscored the Highlanders 18-5 to open their 19-point lead (48-29). But CU couldn't hold it. UC-Riverside closed to close to 54-45 on a three-pointer by Rheya Nabors, then to 54-47 on a layup by Alyssa Morris with 7:38 to play.
Just over 2 minutes later, Nottingham's trey brought the Highlanders to 58-54, and a pair of free throws by Morris closed the gap to 58-56 with 4:39 remaining.
Jeffery and Morris traded baskets, keeping CU ahead by a pair (60-58) before the Buffs got back-to-back field goals from Jeffery and Malcolm-Peck to extend the lead to 64-58 with 3 minutes left.
When Britney Blythe's pair of free throws made it 66-58 with 2:08 to play, the Buffs could breathe easier. CU added five-of-seven free throws in the final 1:48 and was on its way to the second round.
"If feels really good," Spears said. "We worked hard in the preseason for this, so it's nice to get the win in the postseason."