BOULDER – The draw was clear, but it didn’t matter. Colorado students turned out by the hundreds for Wednesday night’s women’s basketball game matching No. 16 CU against previously unbeaten Iowa. Never mind that they came mostly for tickets to the men’s game on Dec. 7 against No. 2 Kansas.
All that mattered to CU coach Linda Lappe and her players was that the students showed up. Turns out, the Buffs needed them. They had a difficult time holding leads, but they held off the Hawkeyes nonetheless, winning 90-87 at the Coors Events Center.
At game’s end, students traded wrist bands given to them upon entering the CEC for the coveted KU tickets. The court was nearly stormed – not to celebrate a win – but in time the distribution of just under 2,000 tickets went smoothly. Another 500 will be made available to students.
“Whether they came for tickets or to watch us, it was their choice to come . . . I mean they were there, what more can you say?” said CU senior guard Brittany Wilson.
Wilson topped five Buffs in double figures. She started for the first time this season and scored a career-high 26 points – 17 in the first half. Arielle Roberson scored 17 points, contributed a game-best nine of CU’s 44 rebounds (Iowa had 35) and had a career-high six assists. Lexy Kresl scored 12, while Jasmine Sborov and Jen Reese added 10 points each for the Buffs.
Rounding back into form after a leg injury, Wilson hit seven of 10 free throws in the final 1:46 as the Buffs turned back their Big Ten visitors. For the foul-filled night (59 were called on both teams), CU hit 30-of-40 free throws to Iowa’s 21-of-32. The Hawkeyes lost three players to fouls, the Buffs two. But CU benefitted most at the line, getting 15 of its final 18 points at the free throw line in the last 4:54.
Lappe called the CU students “a huge help in a game like that . . . we enjoy having them and we hope they come back. Having students support you is important in women’s basketball. We knew the student section was going to be awesome.”
With the Twitter world abuzz Tuesday about the KU ticket distribution plan, Lappe had told her players to “keep a narrow focus” on Wednesday night.
The Buffs did, didn’t and finally did. A 20-point first-half lead was cut to two early in the second half. A 15-point second-half lead was cut to three in the final half minute. Yet the Buffs kept their cool, remained unbeaten (3-0) and eventually handed the Hawkeyes their first loss in five games.
“We knew they weren’t going to lay down and die,” Lappe said. “Their players play hard. But in the end I liked how we responded to every one of their runs. We could have folded; instead, we came down and hit shot, got key rebounds and got stops.”
The Buffs led by as many as 20 points (46-26) late in the first half, but a 9-2 run to close the half pulled the Hawkeyes to within 48-35 at intermission. The Buffs’ 48 first-half points were their most since the 2011 WNIT when they hit 50 against Cal, but they ended up allowing more than 70-plus points since the 2011-12 season.
CU forged its double-figure lead with a 17-0 surge that broke an 8-8 tie less than 5 minutes into the game. Wilson scored six points during the Buffs’ spurt but just as instrumental as her scoring in that run was CU’s defense. While the Buffs were going from that 8-8 tie to a 25-8 advantage, the Hawkeyes went without a field goal in six attempts. By the time Iowa found its range again, CU had opened its 20-point margin.
The Buffs shot 45.9 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes, hitting 17 of their 37 attempts, while the Hawkeyes went to the locker room at 40.7 percent (11-of-27). Iowa finished the game at 46.9 percent, thanks to 51.4 percent second half shootinig.
If the Buffs believed they could open the second half in cruise control, the Hawkeyes quickly put an end to the notion. Less than 2 minutes into the final 20, CU’s 20-point first-half lead was a distant memory.
The Hawkeyes one-upped their 9-2 run that closed the first half, outscoring the Buffs 10-2 to pull to within five points (50-45) on a Theairra Taylor three-pointer with just over 17 minutes remaining. Two minutes later, CU saw its lead cut to three (54-51) on a pair of free throws by Iowa freshman guard Ally Disterhoft.
One of two free by freshman Alexa Kastanek shrunk the Hawkeyes’ deficit to 56-54 – and the Buffs were in dire need of a boost. They got it with a 15-2 run.
Field goals by Sborov and Roberson, coupled with two Roberson free throws and another pair by Reese, pushed CU back up by 10 (64-54) with 10:01 left. Kresl added a layup, aided by a sweet look-off of an Iowa defender, then freshman Lauren Huggins drained a three-pointer from the left corner.
Suddenly, the Buffs were back up by 15 points (71-56) and appeared to be out of danger. The Hawkeyes had something else in mind – and rolling over wasn’t it. They used a 12-1 run to get within four points again (72-68) until Huggins’ huge trey from the right wing opened a 79-72 CU lead with 3:28 remaining.
Again, Iowa wasn’t done. Four consecutive free throws by Melissa Dixon brought Iowa to within 79-75 with 2:02 to play, and a layup by Clair Till pulled the Hawkeyes to 84-80 with 41.4 seconds showing. They got to 85-82, then 87-84, then 90-87 at the buzzer on a three-pointer by Samantha Logic, who tied Wilson with a game-high 26 points.
Lappe called the win “huge" for her team "to gain confidence and for our young players to get some minutes and see what that looks like.”
And as for the CU students, added Kresl, “Maybe it opened their eyes to us.”