BOULDER – Another chance at a close-game breakthrough eluded the Colorado women’s basketball team Sunday afternoon. Following what has become a painfully familiar script, CU faltered in the final 5 minutes and lost 80-77 to Washington State at the Coors Events Center.
“Well, it seems a little bit like déjà vu,” said Buffaloes coach Linda Lappe, whose team lost its fourth Pac-12 Conference game this season by three or fewer points.
Lappe credited the Buffs for competing throughout and staying close enough to win but again lamented their inability to “make key stops, free throws, passes and shots down the stretch that would have helped us have the outcome we wanted.”
After trailing by as many as nine points midway through the second half, CU (14-11, 4-10) rallied to tie the score at 71-71. But the Buffs clanked four of their next five free throws, not hitting one until Ashley Wilson converted a pair with 2:52 to play, then sank one of two to put CU up 75-73 with 2:17 remaining.
From there until the final buzzer, the Buffs got only a field goal by Jen Reese in the last 2 seconds that made it a two-point (79-77) game. After one of two foul shots by WSU’s Shalie Dheensaw with 1.1 seconds left put WSU (14-12, 8-6) up 80-77, Reese threw a three-quarter court length pass to Jamee Swan, who caught the ball then passed to Wilson instead of shooting.
Time expired before Wilson could attempt a shot.
Lappe said Reese’s long pass went a step or two too deep, forcing Swan inside the 3-point circle to catch it – thus Swan’s decision to kick it back to Wilson. Reese said the play was designed for Swan to catch-and-shoot, but added, “If there was more time, Ashley could have shot the ball. The pass was there; she had it.”
Swan, again coming off the bench, and Reese led the Buffs with 19 points each, while Ashley Wilson added 12. Arielle Roberson was a point away from a double-double in points and rebounds – nine in each category. Brittany Wilson left the game with 12:19 to play and did not return after suffering a possible concussion.
The Buffs had problems with Washington’s backcourt of Kelsey Plum (25 points) and Jazmine Davis (24) in an 87-80 loss on Thursday night. This was part of Lappe’s déjà vu: On Sunday, CU surrendered 42 combined points to WSU guards Tia Presley (32) and Lia Galdeira (10).
Presley got 22 of her total in the first half, then picked up eight more points in the first 4:55 of the second half. She didn’t get her 32nd point until hitting a layup with 1:27 to play, putting the Cougars up 77-75.
That nearly 14-minute span of keeping Presley in check, said Ashley Wilson, came from “focusing on keeping the ball out of her hands” in the second half. “We had a couple of different players on her (and) when she was driving, just have our bigger post players waiting for her at the basket. It turned out to work in our favor.”
Lappe also thought a different lineup might work in the Buffs’ favor; she used a bigger five of Swan, Reese, Roberson and Rachel Hargis, with Ashley Wilson at guard, in the first half and again to close the game.
But it didn’t matter in CU making enough late plays to win. “There’s no magic formula,” Lappe said. “You just have to do it. You have to figure out that enough’s enough and decide to be tough enough to do that. You have to understand that every team is going to get tougher down the stretch and that’s when the stars are really born. It’s where players step up.”
The Cougars swept the series with the Buffs, winning 70-60 last month in Corvallis, Wash. With their loss to the Huskies on Thursday, the Buffs gave up 80 points or more for the second consecutive game and the fourth time in Pac-12 play. And it marks the first time CU has allowed 80 or more points in back-to-back games since the 2008 WNIT.
The Buffs trailed 44-40 at halftime, surrendering a 25-22 lead taken on a 3-pointer by Roberson with 8:37 left before the break. But CU didn’t get another field goal for nearly 4 minutes, and during that time WSU was building its largest lead of the half – 34-25 – with Presley scoring eight of her 22 first-half points in that stretch.
“She played too many minutes tonight (36), but you really can’t take her out,” said WSU coach June Daugherty. “She’s such a fierce competitor.”
A defensive upgrade had to be among CU’s second-half goals, but that message – if delivered – apparently took a while to register. The Cougars outscored the Buffs 7-2 to open the half, with Presley scoring consecutive baskets to kick off that run. WSU again stretched its lead to nine – 51-42 – on a traditional three-point play by Shane Romberg (14 points, 12 rebounds).
By the 10-minute mark the Buffs still trailed by seven – 64-57 – but they were about to make their move. With Reese getting four points in a 6-0 run and freshman Zoe Beard-Fails scoring on a put-back, CU pulled within 64-63 with 9:07 remaining.
The Buffs finally tied the Cougars at 71-71 when Swan hit both ends of a one-and-one with 4:23 left. On the previous possession, With 5:51 to play, Swan scored what would be CU’s next-to-last field goal – the last being Reese’s jumper with 2 seconds left.
After Ashley Wilson hit one of two free throws to give CU its 75-73 lead with 2:17 left, WSU got four free throws from Galdeira, Presley’s layup and one of two foul shots from Dheensaw to account for its 80 points.
The Cougars were up 80-77 and the Buffs needed a nearly full-court pass and full-blown miracle to force overtime. They got the first but not the second.
“We have to forget about this game, but we have to learn from it as well and move on,” Reese said. “We just have to finish down the stretch . . . hopefully good things will come.”
CU is at Arizona State on Friday night (6:30 p.m.) and at Arizona next Sunday (3 p.m.). The Buffs close out the regular season at home against UCLA on Feb. 28 and USC on March 2.