BOULDER - The buildup was big, but Colorado's effort was bigger.
The CU women's basketball team eventually took down No. 8 Louisville 70-66 on Friday night at the Coors Events Center. But remaining unbeaten (9-0) almost didn't happen for the Buffaloes.
Sophomore forward Jen Reese scored on a critical put-back after the second of two missed free throws by Brittany Wilson with 11.1 seconds left to secure the Buffs' first win against a Top Ten opponent since the 2002 CU team defeated No. 5 Stanford in the NCAA's Sweet 16. Buffs coach Linda Lappe was a junior on that squad.
"Holy cow!" Lappe said of the enormity of Reese's effort on Wilson's second foul shot. "We're in trouble if Jen doesn't get that put-back. I wouldn't say she crashes hard every single time, but to know that she knows she needed to do it that particular time was great. Jen just has a great feel for the game; it was all effort."
CU led by as many as 13 (64-51) in the final 3 minutes before Louisville's full-court pressure caused four of the Buffs' 25 turnovers and sparked a 10-0 run in less than half a minute. The Cardinals closed to 68-66 before Wilson went to the line and unwittingly set the stage for Reese.
Lappe said she was "really proud, really happy for our players. We've worked hard since end of last season to be able to come in and do what we did tonight . . . there were times we struggled to score the ball, but we also hung in there until the end."
Louisville coach Jeff Walz said he and his players "knew (CU) was going to be a very good test for us. (CU) is a very talented basketball team. Arielle Roberson is a big-time post player and Chucky (Jeffery) is a great point guard . . . overall, they've been the best team we've played this year."
The Buffs had four players in double figures, topped by Jeffery's 22. Roberson added 13 and Reese and Wilson had 11 each. CU center Rachel Hargis contributed seven points and a career-high seven blocks in what she agreed was her best overall game at CU.
"We knew it was going to be a physical game inside (and) I'm all about physicality," the 6-4 Hargis said. "I knew I had to do my job if we were going to win."
Lappe said her job is to tell Hargis that post play will be a battleground: "She thrives when I tell her it's going to be a war on the blocks."
It was, and the Buffs prevailed. They outrebounded the Cardinals 44-32 and got 18 second-chance points to Lousiville's 14. Still, the visitors prevailed in the paint 34-30.
Louisville (9-2) was led by Antonita Slaughter's 19. The Cardinals' leading scorer Shoni Schimmel, an All-Big East selection last season, was held to four points, primarily by the determined Wilson, who stayed as close to Schimmel as fuzz on a peach.
"Brittany really frustrated Shoni," Lappe said. "She didn't give her many open looks and a lot of her threes were contested. . . . her presence on the ball was just unbelievable."
Wilson took defending Shimmel, who was averaging 12.1 points a game, as a personal challenge. "It was the second time I've played her . . . I knew I wanted to shut down an All-Big East All-American," she said. "I had the team's help. It was just a great thing to be able to shut her down and not let her score in the first half and not let her score until the last four minutes of the game. It was a great day."
Jeffery said Wilson "did a phenomenal job" on Schimmel. "That was probably one of the best defensive games I've seen Brittany play."
Jeffery scored the game's first basket to give CU a 2-0 lead, but the Buffs trailed for almost the next 10 minutes. The good news: They never let the Cardinals get more than a five-point lead before they made their move to go ahead on a 11-0 run that put them up 23-16.
Roberson scored five points during that spurt, with Jeffery and Lexy Kresl each adding a three-pointer.
Louisville closed the gap to three (23-20) before CU surged again, this time riding Jeffery's five points and an inside basket by Hargis on the way to a 7-2 run that gave the Buffs their biggest early lead - 30-22.
Hargis contributed her best half of the season, hitting three of four field goals, blocking three shots, collecting two rebounds and getting one steal. She was on the receiving end of a Jeffery pass in the half's closing seconds, scoring a layup that put the Buffs up 36-30 at intermission.
But the Buffs started the last half in an offensive stupor, not getting their first points until Roberson hit a pair of free throws (38-34) with 15:36 remaining. She followed those with a basket in the lane to push CU ahead again by six (40-34).
Monique Reid answered with a pair of quick inside buckets to cut the Buffs' advantage to two (40-38) and then the Cardinals then pulled to within 41-40 on a bucket by Shawnta Dyer. But the Buffs temporarily held them at bay.
At the 10-minute mark, CU was up 48-43, but a three-pointer by Slaughter trimmed the lead to 48-46. The Buffs held that two-point advantage until Wilson hit both ends of a one-and-one to send CU's lead to 50-46 with 7:18 to play.
The Cardinals weren't done - and the Buffs weren't even close. A pair of Slaughter free throws pulled them to 50-48 before Reese banked in a short jumper for a 52-48 CU lead with 5:22 showing. That started a 10-0 Buffs run that produced a 60-49 advantage with 3:33 remaining.
Here's how it happened: Jeffery followed Reese's bank shot with an acrobatic layup to make it 54-48 with just under 5 minutes left, Reese got another basket, and Kresl and Wilson scored on fast-break lay-ins. The Buffs were up by 11 points, the Cardinals were staggering and the CEC was rocking.
But Louisville's 10-0 run and a frantic finish were on the way. And a season-high crowd of 3,408 went quiet until Reese's monster offensive rebound and follow.
Said Jeffery of the Cardinals' late rally and the Buffs' near-collapse: "We got a little flustered and started throwing the ball around a bit. They were capitalizing on us so we realized we had to slow down and relax a bit because there was still time left in the game. We had to get the ball and secure it . . . Jen came up with a big offensive rebound that won us the game."
The Buffs are off until Saturday, Dec. 22 when they host Utah Valley (1:30 p.m.). They close non-conference play a week later against New Mexico (2:30 p.m., Coors Events Center).