BOULDER—It took the Buffs nearly six minutes to knock off the rust of a 12-day layoff. They then spent the game’s final 34 minutes rediscovering a level of efficiency that had been lost for the better part of the season, as they defeated the TCU Horned Frogs 78-71 in the first round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament at the Coors Events Center on Wednesday.
Trailing 19-11 with 14:01 left in the first half, the Buffs suddenly switched into a different gear as they finished the half on a 32-11 run that also saw them shoot a resounding 55 percent from the field over that span. They then fought off a furious Horned Frogs rally in the game’s final few minutes and now will advance to the second round of the WNIT where they will play the winner of Thursday night’s Colorado State-Southern Utah game. The date and location of the second-round matchup will be announced by the WNIT shortly following that contest up in Fort Collins.
“We’re extremely excited to have our season continue,” said head coach Linda Lappe. “It was also good to get back into the flow of things and get that rust off. We really came out and started attacking their zone, which was a huge key and we got some easy baskets off of that.”
One of the team’s best offensive performances of the season was sparked by a bench that outscored its opponents’ 36-3. Jamee Swan provided the biggest boost off that bench as her 16 points paced an offensive unit that struggled to find its way in the game’s opening minutes. Trailing by eight at that tedious point early in the game, the Buffs bench proceeded to score 15 of the team’s next 20 points and help turn a deficit into 31-24 lead in just over eight minutes. By the end of the half that surge of momentum had translated into a 43-30 halftime lead.
“I thought everyone that came in was solid,” said Lappe. “(Desiree Harris) gave us some good minutes. Lauren Huggins gave us some good minutes, and Zoe (Beard-Fails) did as well. That allowed us to keep everybody fresh and we also wanted to try and get our young kids some post-season experience. You could see a lot of the hard work that they put in over this past week carry over into today and it really helped us.”
With 16:59 remaining, the Buffs’ lead had ballooned to as much as 17 (47-30). But, before the Buffs even began to breathe a sigh of relief, the Horned Frogs went on a 24-7 run of their own, ignited by an effective full-court press defense, that ultimately culminated in a 59-59 tie with just over five minutes to play.
“TCU’s a good team,” said Lappe. “They’re quick, they’re athletic and they can cause a lot of problems with their pressure. We wanted to make stronger and better cuts through the center of their defense. I think we handled it pretty well but we didn’t do a good job in letting them back in the game, but I did like our composure when that happened.”
After an offensive lull allowed the Horned Frogs back into the game, CU went more than six minutes without a field goal at one point in the second half, It was a renewed level of defensive tenacity that eventually helped them win it.
TCU guard Zahna Medley’s short jump shot tied the game at the 5:10 mark. Two Haley Smith free throws then helped CU regain a 61-59 lead on the ensuing possession. Facing the most critical juncture in the game, Lexy Kresl swiped a TCU pass, one of 22 turnovers they forced in the game. The steal led to a fast break layup by Arielle Roberson at the other end that gave the Buffs a four point lead, and the game’s momentum had officially swung for the final time.
After a timeout and two TCU free throws, it was only fitting that Swan would take center stage once again as she had done all night. Swan converted three times in the paint on the next four CU possessions and the Buffs once again had a double digit lead.
“Everybody comes to play and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the passes or the looks that I got from my teammates,” said Swan. “You can’t do it by yourself. As a team as a whole, I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
Swan wasn’t the only Buff who had a big night offensively. Roberson, who pulled down a career-high 17 rebounds 12 days ago against Stanford, scored a team-high 18 points on Wednesday.
“I think we did a really good job moving the ball,” said Roberson. “We could basically get anything we wanted. I think we had it in the post all night, and I think our guards also could shoot as much as they wanted. So, I think it was just a matter of your mentality and if you’re going to attack them or fall back on your heels and more often than not we were able to attack them.”
The biggest surprise on the roster continues to be senior guard Ashley Wilson, who scored 13 points. Her incredible performance over the last nine games, averaging 10.8 points per game over that span, has given CU an added dimension on the offensive end of the court. Her recent offensive explosion comes as even more of a shock considering that she had scored in double figures only twice in the first 97 games of her career.
An added motive for the team as they finish out the season has been to send this year’s celebrated senior of class of Wilson sisters Brittany and Ashley and center Rachel Hargis out on a high note.
Hargis played in her 132nd career game on Wednesday which ties the program record originally set by Erin Scholz, who starred on the team from 1993-97. Brittany Wilson played in her 131st career game as she continues to also climb the school’s all-time list.
“We’re very, very happy (to continue our season),” said Roberson. “Not every team gets this opportunity to continue postseason play, so it’s great for us to continue to play with our seniors, and I know it’s great to get this home win. I don’t know if words can describe it, but we’re just really happy.”