BERKELEY, Calif. - Winning on the road hasn't been a problem this season for the Colorado women's basketball team - until Friday night at Haas Pavilion.
After squandering a 16-point first-half lead, the No. 20/23 Buffs fought back gamely in the second half but came up empty on their final possession and dropped a 59-56 Pac-12 Conference decision to No. 7 California. The loss ended a four-game CU winning streak.
"I'm proud of the way we battled back, but we believed we deserved to win that one," CU coach Linda Lappe said.
Losing for the first time in five road trips this season, the Buffs dropped to 4-3 in the Pac-12 and 15-3 overall. The Bears improved to 16-2, 6-1 and remained tied with No. 6 Stanford for first place in the Pac-12. CU visits Stanford on Sunday afternoon.
As was the case in their 53-49 win in Boulder earlier this month, the Bears were beasts on the boards Friday night, outrebounding the Buffs 47-39. Included in Cal's total were 24 offensive boards, which proved to be decisive. CU also committed 19 turnovers, leading to 20 Cal points.
Brittany Wilson led CU with 11 points, while Chucky Jeffery added 10. Cal, which tied the series at five games apiece, was led by Gennifer Brandon and Layshia Clarendon with 13 each. Brandon also had 10 rebounds.
CU's leading scorer, Arielle Roberson, didn't score her first points until 11:25 remained in the game. She finished with seven points and two rebounds - all in the second half.
The Buffs took control early, going on a 15-2 run that opened a 14-point lead (24-10) with just over 10 minutes remaining in the first half. During that surge, CU hit four of six three attempts - two of them by Brittany Wilson.
The lead went to 16 as the Buffs outscored the Bears 23-8 over a 10-minute span and went up 32-16 with about 4 minutes left before intermission. And that's where CU ran into trouble.
By dominating the offensive boards and getting to the free throw line, the Bears stayed within striking distance. They outscored the Buffs 8-0 to close the first half, with a late trey from the left corner by senior guard Eliza Pierre cutting CU's lead in half and drawing Cal to within 32-24 at the break.
The Buffs were able to fashion their double-figure first half leads without a point from Roberson (13.6 ppg) and with No. 2 scorer Jeffery (13.4 ppg) accounting for only four.
Cal made only eight of its first 35 shots and shot 22.3 percent in the first half. The Bears finished shooting 33.8 from the field while the Buffs shot 38.9 - but only 30 percent in the second half.
CU needed its second-half start to duplicate its first, but that didn't happen. On the Buffs' first possession, center Rachel Hargis picked up her third foul on a hard screen that negated a three-pointer by Lexy Kresl.
Cal immediately took advantage, getting a basket by Reshanda Gray and cutting CU's lead to 32-26. That extended the Bears' run to 10-0, putting pressure on the Buffs to respond - and fast. Jeffery finally got CU's first second-half points, but Cal answered with an 8-0 run to tie the score at 34-34 on a jumper by Clarendon with 14:43 to play.
Her basket capped an 18-2 Bears run that spanned the final 4 minutes of the first half and the opening 5 minutes of the second.
But the Buffs didn't go belly up. A Jeffery turnaround in the lane, followed by a Jen Reese trey opened a five-point CU lead (39-34), but Cal rallied with an 8-2 run and took its first lead (42-41) since 3-2 on a basket by Brittany Boyd, who finished with 10 points and was huge for the Bears down the stretch.
Neither team was able to take more than a two-point advantage until Boyd and Clarendon hit back-to-back jumpers to put Cal up 53-50 with 5:35 left. But CU tied the score at 54-54 on two free throws by Roberson and a Jeffery jumper with 3:42 remaining.
A pair of Boyd layups sent the Bears ahead 58-54 with 2 minutes showing. A Reese jumper in the lane pulled the Buffs to 58-56, giving CU possession with 36 seconds remaining. Roberson's drive to the basket and layup attempt was blocked by Brandon.
The Bears rebounded and Clarendon was fouled. She hit one of two free throws with 14.8 remaining, putting Cal up 59-56 and leaving CU 10.3 seconds to hit a trey and tie.
But the Buffs had trouble getting a clean shot away, and Brittany Wilson's desperation attempt from the left corner missed.