BOULDER - Linda Lappe's third Colorado women's basketball team is more balanced than her first two, but after a pair of Pac-12 Conference losses she wisely recognized that a stronger dose of Chucky Jeffery might be just as beneficial as balance.
After dropping consecutive home games to No. 4 Stanford and No. 7 California, Lappe and Jeffery talked - and on Tuesday night Jeffery responded. The senior point guard scored a season-high 28 points and collected 12 rebounds to lead No. 23 CU to its first Pac-12 win of the season, 67-57 over Utah at the Coors Events Center.
"Chucky came out a lot more aggressive," Lappe said. "She was tentative against Cal and Stanford . . . we needed more from her."
More is what Jeffery delivered, helping key a 20-3 second-half run as the Buffaloes (12-2, 1-2) finally pulled away from the uncooperative Utes (9-5, 0-3).
CU also was lights out from the free throw line, hitting 22 of 26 in the second half and 23 of 28 for the game. The Buffs' final nine points came from the foul line, and they sealed the win by sinking five of six free throws in the final 33 seconds.
Lappe said Jeffery, whose 10 field goals tied a season high, "got in a great flow offensively . . . she took her time, but she was being aggressive and everything was in rhythm. She didn't force too much."
Registering her 23rd career double-double (third this season), it was the type of trademark performance expected of Jeffery in her first three CU seasons. "And we still need that from her," Lappe said. "She knew when we needed to score . . . she understood her role and sometimes that's taking the bull by the horns. There are times when we need her to step up; she understands big possessions."
It wasn't as if Jeffery was completely unproductive against Stanford (17 points) and Cal (13). But she agreed with her coach about playing tentative to open Pac-12 play: "After the past two games, I watched film with coach . . . and I was tentative and wasn't looking to score. She just wanted me to be more aggressive. She told me when I'm more aggressive I make smarter and better decisions to create and help my teammates score as well."
CU won't have to put in extensive film study for its next game with Utah. The Buffs play the Utes in Salt Lake City on Sunday (3 p.m.). Last season, CU and Utah split their regular-season series, with each team winning on the road and CU breaking the tie with a win in the Pac-12 tournament.
The Buffs only led once in Tuesday's first half, and it took them 19 minutes to finally catch the Utes. They did it by closing the half on a 10-1 run, with eight of the points scored by Jeffery as CU took a 32-31 lead at intermission.
Behind Plouffe's 11 first-half points, Utah led by eight points on two occasions before CU shook itself awake. The Utes' last eight-point advantage (30-22) came on a pair of Wicijowski free throws with 4:42 remaining before the break.
That's when Jeffery went to work, getting eight of her 14 first-half points in the final 41/2 minutes. The Buffs' other basket was scored by freshman Jamee Swan, who finished with a career-high 11 boards and eight points in 22 minutes and was a catalyst in CU catching up in the first half, said Lappe: "She kept us in the game for a lot of the first half."
The Buffs' 32 first-half points gave them a nice start toward finally reaching 50 in their third conference home game. They managed only 40 and 49 in the two previous losses, marking the first time since the 1974-75 season CU had been held under 50 points in consecutive home games.
But that wasn't a second-half focal point for the Buffs; scoring 49 and getting a one-point win would have been fine. They opened the second half with a basket by Swan, taking their largest lead (34-31) of the night to that point.
Plouffe answered for Utah (34-33), then got a trey by Rachel Messer to go up 36-34. Meagan Malcolm-Peck's layup tied the score at 36-36 before a 9-2 Utes run opened a 45-38 advantage for the visitors with just under 13 minutes to play.
It was the Buffs' turn to respond, and they did with an 11-1 run, with seven of the points made at the free throw line. The final pair by Brittany Wilson put CU up 49-46 with 8:49 left.
Jeffery took it from there. After hitting a short jumper, she got a steal at the other end, was fouled and hit two free throws for a 55-48 Buffs lead. And when the Utes misfired on their next possession, Jeffery made them pay with a three-pointer from the top of the key that completed CU's 20-3 surge and opened a 10-point lead (58-48) with 5:58 remaining.
The Utes pulled to within five points (62-57) when Plouffe made one of three free throws with 36.1 seconds to play. But the Buffs pulled away at the free throw line, hitting five of six free throws to pocket their first Pac-12 win.
"I'm happy . . . it's nice to get that first one," Lappe said. "You have to give Utah credit, though; they don't beat themselves. You really have to work hard to beat Utah."
A chance for a sweep comes again in five days, which Lappe calls "different (because) we play them again so soon . . . I think there will be some changes by both teams, but for the most part we know each other's game."
The Utes know Jeffery's game, said Utah coach Anthony Levrets: "We played a really good team and obviously Chucky made a ton of plays to beat us. But I'm pleased with my team's effort and we'll keep working and try to get ourselves ready to go on Sunday."