FORT COLLINS – In the post-Chucky Jeffery era, even though the Colorado women’s basketball team might still be in search of a specific go-to player, the No. 17 Buffs made a significant opening-night discovery.
They had talked about having each other’s backs, and when crunch time arrived against their in-state rival Tuesday night, they backed each other up. CU withstood a late Colorado State comeback and escaped with a 63-59 win in its 2013-14 season opener at Moby Arena.
“We stuck together and that’s a major accomplishment,” said forward Arielle Roberson, whose layup with 6:43 left was the Buffs’ last field goal of the night. “One of the things we talked about was having each other backs. I think we had that, especially down the stretch. I didn’t feel like I was playing one-on-one; I felt like my teammates had my back. I think everyone felt that way.”
CU led by as many as 13 points twice in the final 10 minutes, including 59-46 on Roberson’s final basket. But the Rams outscored the Buffs 13-1 during that span and pulled to within 60-59 on a basket by Ellen Nystrom with 2:15 to play.
CSU had an opportunity to go ahead on a possession in the final minute, but Roberson stole the ball with 51 seconds left. Jasmine Sborov hit two free throws with 27 seconds showing, giving her a career-high 13 points and putting the Buffs ahead 62-59.
After Buffs center Rachel Hargis blocked Elin Gustavsson at the other end, Brittany Wilson hit one of two free throws with 2.4 seconds remaining – and the resilient Rams were done. The Buffs, who won 72-46 last season in Boulder and padded their series lead to 34-11, return to the Coors Events Center on Friday night to play Alcorn State in their home opener (7 p.m.).
The versatile Sborov, who has seen her role undergo alterations in each season of her college career, said hitting the two late free throws “felt good, I’m not going to lie. It was really comforting to know my teammates and coaches trust me with those shots. I feel comfortable taking them and they give me reassurance.”
But, she added with a smile, if she had dwelled too much on the scenario when she stepped to the free throw line, “I would have been a head case. I tried not to think about it and tried to act like it was a regular free throw in practice. And that’s what Jen (Reese) said – shoot it just like practice.”
The Rams’ late 13-1 run included a pair of free throws by Caitlin Duffy following a technical foul called on CU coach Linda Lappe. Duffy, who had hit a three-pointer on the previous possession, sank both free throws and pulled the Rams to 60-57 with 2:30 to play. CSU closed to within one on Nystrom’s basket but could get no closer.
Lappe’s explanation of her ‘T:’ “My clipboard fell . . . I didn’t say anything . . . it wasn’t the smartest move. But the players have each other’s back and my back. When you’re a team and you’re family, people make mistakes. There were a lot of missed shots, a lot of fouls, and I definitely made a mistake. I think it shows a lot of resilience from our team.”
Said Roberson: “I think with the technical we definitely could have folded, but we didn’t. I think that’s a positive for us.”
Lappe called her team’s victory “gutsy,” adding, “We found a way to win, which is really important. First game of the year, on the road against your rival . . . CSU is a good team. We got stops when we needed to, got rebounds and made free throws when we needed to. There’s a lot of things to take out of this game.”
And there are areas that obviously need improvement. The Rams turned the Buffs’ 19 turnovers into 15 points and outscored the visitors 28-24 in the paint. Gustavsson scored a game-high 21 points and got assistance from Duffy with 13 and Sam Martin with 10.
CU benefited from balanced scoring from its five starters, with Roberson and Sborov each scoring 13. Reese added eight points and guard Lexy Kresl grabbed a career-high nine rebounds, with four points and four assists.
Kresl said the Buffs knew the Rams “had improved from last year. We didn’t want to underestimate them. They had five people on the floor that could score. It was a really big challenge for us defensively.”
She conceded the Buffs eased up when they opened their 13-point leads, but called the way the win was finally secured “good . . . especially in the first game of the year. It shows you a lot about our team and our heart.”
The Buffs opened the night by hitting four of their first eight field goal attempts and went ahead 10-4 before cooling off. When the cold touches arrived, they lingered; CU went 0-for-7 from the field during a 6:18 stretch and CSU took advantage.
The Rams caught and overtook the Buffs 11-10 at on a Martin three-pointer with 11:15 left in the first half and increased their lead to as many as four (22-18) just under 5 minutes later. During that Rams run, the Buffs’ lone spark was freshman Zoe Beard-Fails, who got five points and two rebounds in 2 minutes. She also picked up two fouls and Lappe said Beard-Fails needed to improve her defense before getting significant minutes against scorers like CSU puts on the floor.
“Right now, she’s not quite ready to guard a team like CSU where all five players can shoot the three, drive, score one-on-one,” Lappe said. Beard-Fails did not play in the second half.
With about 5 minutes left before halftime, CU appeared to at least temporarily solve its turnover (10 for the half) and shooting problems and launched a 13-0 run that opened a nine-point lead. After an Ashley Wilson basket to start the surge, Reese scored on a put-back and a turnaround jumper from the foul line, Roberson hit a jumper, Reese followed with another and Lauren Huggins drained a three-pointer.
Suddenly, the Buffs were up 31-22, although by halftime the Rams had trimmed that lead to 33-27.
The second half started as the Sborov show. The 6-0 junior scored CU’s first six points of the half on two field goals and a pair of free throws, jump-starting an 11-5 run that sent the Buffs up by 12 (44-32).
They led by as many as 13 points twice in the final before the Rams launched their comeback and put a large opening-night scare into the visitors.
“They’re a really good team, much better than last year,” Sborov said. “But I do think making a big run like that, you do start getting a little too comfortable. That’s what need to work on – keep our foot on the gas pedal, keep going until the game’s over.”