SALT LAKE CITY - The No. 23 Colorado women's basketball team showed itself as a balanced group of road warriors here Sunday in a 56-43 Pac-12 Conference win over Utah.
CU's victory was the second over the Utes in five days and kept the Buffaloes unbeaten (4-0) on the road this season. CU improved to 13-2 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-12, while Utah slipped to 9-6 overall and remains winless in conference (0-4).
The Buffs and Utes competed in unusual back-to-back games, with CU winning 67-57 on Tuesday at the Coors Events Center. In that game, Buffs guard Chucky Jeffery was the dominant force offensively with a season-high 28 points.
On Sunday, though, Jeffery took the opposite approach, taking a step back while her teammates - nearly all of them - stepped up.
Initially, Jeffery's withdrawal was forced as she went to the bench with two fouls and 8:58 remaining in the half - but not without hitting her 1,400th career point on an "and-one" play early in the game.
Without the senior standout, the Buffs were forced to spread out their scoring and dip into a balanced bench to keep up the momentum. Jeffery's teammates handled the pressure well, shooting just 44 percent from the field but holding Utah to 31 percent.
"We're better when we're balanced, I really feel that," CU coach Linda Lappe said. "I thought everybody that came in . . . really just kept the flow going. You could never see at any point when we subbed that it affected anything, and I think that's what you want when you sub. I felt like any of the combinations that we put in contributed a lot, and we're just really solid."
Although Jeffery came back in for a couple minutes midway through the first half to restore order after a 7-2 Utah run, she never had to carry the load on offense. The Buffs leading scorer wound up with only six points, but she recorded six assists, three steals and five rebounds - three areas in which she has led the team throughout the season.
By the end of the first half, seven CU players had scored, including freshmen Jamee Swan and Kyleesha Weston and sophomore Jen Reese off the bench.
Meanwhile, forwards Taryn Wicijowski and Michelle Plouffe carried much of the load for the Utes, earning 16 of Utah's 23 first-half points between them.
Neither team had more than a five-point lead at any point in the half, but CU managed a two-point advantage (25-23) at intermission.
Jeffery started the second half, but the Buffs' depth continued to show. A 10-4 Buffs run capped by a Jasmine Sborov three gave them an eight-point lead with 14:47 on the clock. Plouffe then hit a three to close the gap to five, but Reese responded with a 7-0 run of her own, putting CU up 42-30 with 11:46 remaining.
The Buffs never relinquished the lead from there. Redshirt freshman Arielle Roberson, sophomore Lexy Kresl and junior Rachel Hargis picked up the effort on defense to hold Plouffe and Wicijowski to a combined eight points in the time remaining. Guard Iwalani Rodrigues, another key offensive threat for the Utes, scored just three on the night.
"What we told our team is, it's not going to be three players that guard their best three players (Plouffe, Wicijowski and Rodrigues)," Lappe said. "It's going to be a total team effort in terms of defense . . . everybody who was on kind of a non-scorer did a fantastic job of really making their lives miserable and making them work for everything that they got."
By game's end, the Buffs were up by 13 (56-43), and Reese had racked up 11 points off the bench to lead the Buffs in scoring. Roberson also hit double figures for the 14th time this season with 10, while Weston added eight.
In total, nine CU players contributed points, with Kresl and Sborov contributing three each in the second half.
Colorado outrebounded Utah 41-32, led by Hargis' seven, and shot 44 percent from the field compared to Utah's 26.3.
Wicijowski led the Utes in scoring with 16, getting her 1,200th career point early in the first half. Plouffe added 15; no other Utah player scored more than three.
Road games are a new strength for the Buffs as they earned a winning road record (9-8) last season for the first time since 2003-04. The reason, said Reese, is that under Lappe's leadership, CU has found a way to keep the momentum going away from Coors.
"On road games, we have to make our own energy, and that really helps our energy level going into the game," Reese said. "(Coach Lappe) says, 'Slow and steady wins the race,' and I just feel like (road games) show our toughness."
The Buffs return to Boulder this week to take on Arizona State on Friday at 7 p.m. and Arizona on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the CEC.