SEATTLE – Friday’s first half gave the Colorado women’s basketball team hope, but Stanford quickly took it away in the second half and eliminated the Buffaloes 69-54 in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.
Down two points at halftime in KeyArena, top-seeded Stanford used an early 16-2 second-half run to take control and move into Saturday’s semifinal round against No. 5 seed Southern California, which defeated No. 4 seed Arizona State 59-57 Friday afternoon.
Ninth-seeded CU ended its season at 17-14, while Stanford improved to 29-2 and pushed its all-time series record against the Buffs to 12-4. The Cardinal defeated the Buffs 87-77 in Boulder in mid-January in their only previous meeting this season.
“You’ve got to give Stanford a lot of credit; they’re a good basketball team,” CU coach Linda Lappe said. “They’ve only lost a couple of games for a reason . . . I thought we played with them for a lot of the game. We just had trouble scoring there for a segment and defending in the same segment – and that allowed them to get a lead on us. We were never able to really recover from that.”
Senior guard Brittany Wilson led CU with 16 points, while freshman Haley Smith added 10. They were the only two Buffs in double figures, although senior Ashley Wilson and sophomore Arielle Roberson scored eight points each and Roberson collected a career-high 17 rebounds.
Held to five points in the first half, Stanford Pac-12 Player of the Year Chiney Ogwumike finished with 19 and added 11 rebounds for her 23rd double-double of the season and her seventh in Pac-12 Tournament play – tying her sister Nnemkadi for the most in tournament history.
Roberson called competing against Chiney Ogwumike “a great honor . . . I think she’s made me tougher. She’s given me a lot of things to work on that I know are my weaknesses.”
Lappe said the Buffs’ first-half strategy for defending Ogwumike was to “essentially (not) guard her with any one player.” That, added Lappe, made it difficult to post up on any single player. “She’s very physical . . . very strong. When you give her a body to post on, they feed her well and then she makes a lot of great moves.”
At least it worked for a half. In the second half, Ogwumike went 4-of-9 from the field and 5-of-5 from the free throw line. She also hit her first 3-pointer – and only third of the season – since canning one in Boulder on Jan. 12. It gave Stanford a 30-28 lead with just under 17 minutes to play and the Cardinal never trailed again.
Veteran Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said CU “made a decision, I think, to really double Chiney and it took us a while to kind of really get ourselves going. Credit to Colorado.”
Ogwumike pointed to CU’s “unconventional physicality” and different players sagging off on her as proving disruptive in the first half. “It was different,” she said. “We’re going to get everyone’s ‘A’ game and get an unconventional ‘A’ game to make us shake it up a little bit. So long as we just weather the storm I’m really confident for my team.”
Stanford senior Senior Mikaela Ruef also contributed a double-double – 10 points, 16 rebounds – while freshman guard Lili Thompson scored 16 points – half of them during the Cardinal’s game-turning run in the second half. Junior Bonnie Samuelson contributed 15 points, hitting three of her eight 3-point attempts.
CU played the nation’s No. 4 team even – and then some – in the first half, leading by as many as six points (10-4) in the first 6 minutes and by two (23-21) at intermission. The Buffs had the lead for 14:45 of the first 20 minutes.
Stanford’s 21 first-half points were its fewest this season – five less than at No. 1 Connecticut in a 76-57 loss on Nov. 11, 2013. And the Cardinal’s 24.1 first-half shooting percentage also was a season low, coming in under the 32.3 percent at Texas on Nov. 23, 2013.
“I thought we struggled in the first half,” VanDerveer said. “We missed open shots but we made those shots in the second half.”
As they did in their first-round win against UCLA, the Buffs rediscovered their long-range shooting touches for a second consecutive game. CU shot 50 percent (8-of-16) from beyond the arc in its 76-65 first-round win over UCLA, a dramatic improvement over the 10 percent (3-of-30) combined in the Buffs’ last three regular-season games. The Buffs wound up 6-of-22 from beyond the arc on Friday.
Brittany Wilson opened the afternoon’s scoring with a trey from the top of the key and closed the first-half scoring with another from the left wing to give CU its two-point edge at the break. She accounted for three of the Buffs’ four first-half 3-pointers, with Lauren Huggins – fresh onto the court with the shot clock winding down – hitting the other to give CU its 10-4 advantage.
Despite two of their post players – freshman Zoe Beard-Fails and senior Rachel Hargis – having their first-half minutes limited by three fouls each, the Buffs bested the physical Cardinal on the boards (25-20). But by game’s end Stanford owned a 43-40 in the rebound battle.
A more glaring discrepancy on the stat sheet came at the free throw line. CU was 6-of-9, Stanford 21-of-30. Said Lappe: “Free throws were probably the biggest difference in the game. We put them on the free throw line way too much.”
If the Cardinal was sluggish in the first half, no one expected it to carry too far into the second half – and it didn’t. The Cardinal’s 24.1 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes rose to 46.7 percent (14-of-30) in the second 20 minutes. The Cardinal's 21 field goals (59 attempts) were a season low, but Stanford hit five of its nine second-half 3-point attempts after going 1-for-10 in the first half.
By the time Ogwumike hit her rare trey, Stanford’s launch sequence already was underway. Beginning with one of three free throws by Amber Orrange with 17:59 left, the Cardinal outscored the Buffs 16-2 over the next 4:41 to go up 41-30.
As Stanford was finding its second-half rhythm, CU was having trouble with turnovers. The Buffs committed eight of their 15 turnovers after halftime, and for the game, the Cardinal turned those 15 errors into 19 points.
“You have to play well for 40 minutes to beat Stanford,” Lappe said. “When you start making mental errors, they really take advantage of that.”
Thompson scored eight points during Stanford’s rally, including a 3-pointer and an “and-one” three-point play that was followed by a Samuelson trey. Another three-ball by Samuelson with just over 10 minutes left increased Stanford’s lead to 53-36, and CU never trimmed its deficit to single digits thereafter.
Still, the Buffs scrapped, closing to 13 (67-54) in the final minute and having a chance to pull within 10 when a three-point attempt by Lexy Kresl rimmed out – and 30 seconds later CU’s season was over.
A tearful Brittany Wilson described her senior season “as a war . . . you don’t win every battle, but I wouldn’t trade (her coaches and teammates) for anything in the world. When our backs were against the wall, we fight. That is one thing I can always say about this team.”