BOULDER – April approaches and the Colorado women’s basketball team plays on. Arielle Roberson’s second-half scoring and her team’s overall shot blocking swept CU past Southern Utah 79-68 on Saturday night and into the third round of the WNIT.
Roberson opened the second half with a 3-pointer, launching the Buffaloes on a 17-5 run that produced their largest lead of the game – 45-26. Held scoreless in the first half, Roberson finished with a team-high 15 points, collected 11 rebounds for her seventh double-double of the season, and added a career-best five of CU’s 14 blocked shots – the second-most in team history.
“That was a tough team we played,” CU coach Linda Lappe said. “Southern Utah does so many good things . . . we had a tough time scoring in first half. Their defense was stingy, but I really liked the way we opened the second half; we had a different level of energy. At the end we were able to do just enough to hold on to our lead and win.”
The Buffs (19-14) defeated the Thunderbirds (23-10) for the second time this season, claiming a 75-59 win in their final non-conference game on Dec. 29, also at the Coors Events Center.
CU’s next WNIT opponent and game site are to be determined. The Buffs advanced with a 78-71 first-round win over TCU, while the Thunderbirds moved into the second round with a 71-56 win over Colorado State.
CU closed Saturday night’s first half with a 12-5 run that produced a 28-21 lead at intermission. Then, the Buffs opened the final 20 minutes with a 17-5 surge to begin pulling away. They led by as many as 19 points but the T-Birds, who never led, closed to within nine points twice in the final 3 minutes. CU hit seven of 10 free throws in the final 1:23 to put the game out of reach.
Roberson said she opened the game “timid . . . I was just going through the motions. It was just a mindset.” She took only two first-half shots, which she said drew a halftime admonishment from associate head coach Jonas Chatterton.
“Coach Jonas was saying ‘shoot the ball,’” Roberson recalled, and in the second half she did. Roberson hit six of her eight field goal attempts. “I just hit the switch,” she said. “In the second half I decided to be myself again and just go out there, be aggressive and play.”
Lappe said Roberson wasn’t “really going, getting touches” in the first half. “She needs our offense to work, to move around her” while she “moves within the offense . . . she was on the receiving end of that (and) stepped up within the flow of the offense.”
Lappe also reiterated Roberson’s thought about her second-half play: “I thought she came out with a different mindset.”
But Roberson had plenty of help. Rachel Hargis tied a career high with 12 points and contributed four steals, while Lexy Kresl added 12 points, six rebounds and four assists. Brittany Wilson was CU’s fourth double-figure scorer with 11 points, while her twin sister Ashley added eight points.
The Buffs went up 6-0 on consecutive 3-pointers by Brittany Wilson and held the lead until the T-birds went to Carli Moreland, a senior from Broomfield. She scored six straight points to pull Southern Utah into a 16-16 tie with 5:42 left before the break.
But that deadlock served as a launch point for the Buffs. They closed the half with a 12-5 run and led 28-21 at intermission, with a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer by Kresl on an in-bounds play at the shot clock buzzer highlighting the surge.
Moreland, meanwhile, got the T-Birds’ final five points of the half, giving her 11 straight. She finished with a game-high 17, with Desiree Harris coming off the bench to add 16.
Roberson had three first-half blocks and got her fourth – setting a career high – in the first minute of the second half. Lappe attributed her team’s 14 blocks to “great help-side” defense, with Roberson adding that communication was a big factor. “I think we did that very well in practice . . . I think it just carried over.”
After Roberson’s trey to open the second-half scoring, Hargis scored on a left-handed spin move and the Buffs were up 33-21, prompting a Southern Utah timeout with 18:22 to play. When the Buffs got one of two free throws from Ashley Wilson and a jumper from Roberson, their lead jumped to 15 (36-21) and the T-Birds were on the ropes.
Lappe called Hargis’ shot “huge. It helped our whole mindset in the second half. Rachel took really good shots and that’s the key . . . she wasn’t in a rush and was just taking her time.”
In scoring 51 second-half points, the Buffs shot 60.7 percent (17-of-28) from the field and finished at 47.9 percent (23-of-48) for the game. The T-Birds scored 27 points off of the Buffs’ 24 turnovers, but CU limited the visitors to 34.5 percent shooting (19-of-55) and held a 21-8 advantage in second-chance points.
That the Buffs are still playing is a large bonus for seniors such as Hargis and the Wilson sisters. “It’s always great to be able to continue to play when other teams are going home and other careers are done,” Hargis said. “We want to play as long as we can; it’s an awesome feeling.”