BOULDER - So much for that in-state sweep by the University of Denver women's basketball team. Colorado gleefully swept away any thought of it Thursday night, pummeling of the Pioneers 71-36 at the Coors Events Center.
CU took control late in the first half then steadily pulled away in the second, running its record to 8-0 for only the third time in school history. The only two Buffaloes teams to open more successfully were those in 1992-93 (15-0) and 1980-81 (12-0).
The Buffs are among only a dozen unbeaten teams nationally, and if this run keeps up, they just might make a run at the national rankings. "But not quite yet," said coach Linda Lappe. "We have to continue to win. I'd like to say we're a team that should be ranked, but looking at the RPI's, which came out (Thursday), we're not there yet . . . we're going to have to do something in the conference. If we do well in the conference, yeah, maybe we'll get some votes in the top 25."
Thursday's RPI Index had CU at No. 146, underscoring Lappe's point that there's more work to be done before the Buffs begin dreaming those Top 25 dreams.
But that wasn't on their minds Thursday night. DU had beaten CU 70-69 last season in Denver, and this season had disposed of Colorado State, Air Force and Northern Colorado. Last stop: Boulder - and it was a dead end.
"Payback is awesome," CU senior Julie Seabrook said. "We've been really excited to play them again - just because of last year and also because they'd beaten every other Colorado team . . . we couldn't let them sweep the state."
The Pioneers will have to settle for 3-1 within the state lines. The Buffs held them to their lowest point total of the season and limited their leading scorer, Kaetlyn Murdoch - a senior forward who was averaging 17.0 points and was the Sun Belt Conference's preseason co-player of the year - to four points in each half. Her eight points were a season low.
Only one DU player - junior guard Emiko Smith - reached double figures (10). CU, meanwhile, got an eighth consecutive double-figure performance (20) from junior point guard Chucky Jeffery, who has scored 76 points in her last three games on 71 percent shooting. She hit nine-of-10 from the field - including two-of-three three-pointers - Thursday night.
Freshman guard Lexy Kresl added 13 points, 10 of them during a second-half surge when she and Jeffery keyed a 19-6 run that pushed the Buffs up 47-23. The Pioneers, dropping to 6-3, never led, never got closer than 23 in the second half and trailed by as many 35 before the final horn sounded.
"I'm really, really proud of our team," Lappe said. "I thought we played a tremendous game in all phases . . . we shared the ball and got everybody involved . . . we played with a great amount of focus; we were on a mission tonight."
CU's primary defensive mission was to slow Murdoch - and Seabrook, Rachel Hargis and Jen Reese accomplished that. Seabrook, who finished with eight points and four rebounds, and her cohorts denied Murdoch the ball for most of the night.
"We knew we couldn't let her catch it in the block," Lappe said. "She has a great turnaround fadeaway. She's not tall (5-11) but she uses her height and length really well. We wanted to make sure nothing came easy."
Nothing did, and once they settled themselves late in the first half, the Buffs were headed for a rout. They didn't pull away from the Pioneers until the first half's last 2 minutes, but it happened dramatically.
With DU staying close at 16-13, CU got six consecutive inside points from Seabrook, with two of the baskets coming on nice post feeds from Reese. The last of Seabrook's buckets put the Buffs up 22-17, then it was Jeffery's turn.
Her straightaway three-pointer at 1:39 before intermission gave CU a 25-17 advantage, and when DU rushed what coach Erik Johnson hoped would be the final shot of the half, the Buffs got control, leaving time for Jeffery to hit a half-court buzzer beater for a 28-17 advantage.
"Oh, yeah," she said. "As soon as it left my hand it felt good."
And her second half would only get better.
Both teams finished the first half with more turnovers than field goals - CU checking in at 14 turnovers and 12 made shots and DU at 10 and 7. Jeffery committed an uncharacteristic seven first-half turnovers and finished with nine - more than half of CU's total (19).
Jeffery said she was "really sloppy with the ball . . . it came from getting so excited." And Lappe said Jeffery seemed to be "driving in there to not turn the ball over versus driving to score. But I thought she really loosened up in the second half."
But neither the turnover stat nor the Buffs only going to the free throw line twice all night (they made both) swung any momentum in the direction of the Pioneers, who shot only 30 percent from the field (15-of-50).
CU opened the second half with a trey from the left corner by Kresl, got a jumper in transition from Jeffery, then another three-pointer by Meagan Malcolm-Peck to take its biggest lead to that point - 36-21.
But more Buffs points - this run courtesy of Kresl and Jeffery - were on the way. After Murdoch sank a jumper with 16:28 to play, CU went on an 11-0 run, with Kresl accounting for seven of those points.
Before the Pioneers could score again with 121/2 minutes remaining, the Buffs were up 47-23 and cruising. Lappe used all of her players, including sophomore Brenna Malcolm-Peck, who had not been on the court since February 2010 due to a myriad of injuries.
Her teammates were ecstatic to see her finally return - once she got the green light from Lappe. "I asked her if she wanted to go in and could she run the court," Lappe said.
Of course, Malcolm-Peck answered in the affirmative. She said she was at a loss "to describe the feeling. It's been about two years. It was absolutely amazing and I couldn't make the comeback without the support of my teammates."
"Brenna has been through so much adversity since we got her as a freshman," a beaming Jeffery said. "To see her overcome that and get in the game was just huge."
The Buffs are off until Saturday, Dec. 17 when they host Weber State (4 p.m.). Tickets start at $8 and can be purchased at CUBuffs.com/tickets or by calling 303-49-BUFFS.