BOULDER – Strange afternoon of hoops in Boulder, but strange was good. The No. 11 Colorado women remained unbeaten with a 79-56 win over Illinois, but it was anything but business as usual in the Coors Events Center.
For starters, the Buffs (8-0) and Illini (5-5) had their pregame warm-up time shortened due to the aftermath of the CU’s men’s last-second upset of No. 6 Kansas. That game started at 1:20 p.m., with the women’s contest scheduled to begin just after 5 p.m. But it took longer than anticipated to clear the CEC court after it was stormed by CU students and fans following the electrifying 75-72 win.
Then, with 8:30 left in the first half of the women’s contest and the Buffs up 27-20, alarms sounded in the CEC. Play continued, but after a couple of possessions, the court and stands were cleared. A sprinkler head had burst in the loading dock area of the Events Center, triggering the alarms and stopping play for 20 minutes. Players went to their locker rooms, fans went to the building’s upper concourses.
Meanwhile, second-year Illinois coach Matt Bollant might not have known what he was missing. He was ill and remained at his Boulder hotel, which made associate head coach Mike Divilbiss the head man for the afternoon.
“There’s not much you can say in that situation,” Divilbiss said of the delay. “We’re a young team and it’s just one of those things – you just have to learn to get past the environment.”
Once back on the court, Illinois guard Amber Moore got a quick score but the Buffaloes quickly went up by double-digits for the first time on a three-pointer by Jen Reese (16 points) and a jumper by Rachel Hargis (12) for a 32-22 lead.
Forward Jacqui Grant (game-high 20) helped keep Illinois close. When the Illini cooled off from the outside, they started going in and the 6-3 freshman scored four of her 15-first half points on a run that cut Colorado’s lead to 40-35.
But Lauren Huggins hit another 3-pointer and Hargis matched an Illinois score with a layup of her own to give the Buffaloes a 45-37 halftime advantage.
Reese hit her first three field goals of the second half as the Buffs built their lead to 20. A Jasmine Sborov trey and a soft Hargis layup pushed CU in front 62-42. But Illinois increased its press, contributing to the Buffs’ 20 turnovers, and crept to within 14 (62-48).
CU finally settled down as Sborov (10) hit a three-pointer at the 7:56 mark to push the lead back to 17 and the Illini were done.
“I thought it was a great win for our team,” CU coach Linda Lappe said, acknowledging Illinois’ athleticism, quickness and different defensive looks. “There were a lot of different obstacles and adversities through the game – not having the normal warm up time, having a fire alarm . . . I liked how we came out of being in the locker room for 15 minutes and got back into it. So, there were a lot of positives to take out of it.”
Once again, the Buffs’ balance was apparent. Four players, topped by Arielle Roberson’s 17, reached double figures and 10 of the players used by coach Linda Lappe scored. The Buffs outrebounded the Illini 51-30 and held the visitors to 30.8 percent shooting from the field (20-of-65).
In addition to her seven points, senior guard Brittany Wilson set career highs in assists (eight) and rebounds (13) and tied a career-best with three blocked shots.
“The ball just kept falling in my hands I guess and I just jumped up for rebounds and pushed the ball down the floor,” Wilson said. “I found open teammates – one being Jen Reese.”
CU committed 21 turnovers to Illinois’ 14, but Wilson said given the Illini’s average of forcing 26, the Buffs will take their 21 and move on. “You don’t want to have 21 turnovers a game,” she said, “but we won, so hey.”
Reese, who sat out the Wyoming game on Wednesday night with concussion symptoms a broken nose, said her fast start “was good to get the confidence up. Even if I did miss it, it’s short memory. But it was good to come back and it felt good.”
The Buffs are off until Thursday, when they host the University of Denver (7 p.m.).