BOULDER - Linda Lappe knew depth would be among her third Colorado women's basketball team's strong suits - and it took only one game into the 2012-13 season for verification.
With returning scoring leader Chucky Jeffery benched for a violation of team rules, CU got contributions of some variety from nearly everyone Lappe used in a 70-65 win over Idaho on Sunday afternoon.
"Everybody gave us good minutes . . . the players off the bench came in and did their jobs," Lappe said. "Everybody stepped up at different times. No one player dominated the game, and that's what you want to see."
CU junior guard Brittany Wilson led all scorers with 18 points, including eight-of-eight from the free throw line. Four of Wilson's foul shots were clutch, coming in the final 17.9 seconds as the Buffaloes were holding off the hard-to-bury Vandals. Her eight made free throws were a career high, her eight attempts tied a career high.
The Buffs also received a strong debut performance from Arielle Roberson, and if a single player did flirt with dominance at the Coors Events Center, it would be the redshirt freshman from San Antonio.
Roberson, an athletic 6-1 forward, sat out her first season while rehabilitating from hip surgery. CU coaches believed her return would boost the Buffs' inside play as well as their defense - and they were correct.
In addition to her 16 points, Roberson collected six rebounds and blocked two shots. She also contributed five steals - one in the final minutes when the Vandals were continuing to make the Buffs uncomfortable.
"She did some really good things," Lappe said. "In the second half, there was one stretch where she came off the bench for the very last time and we really needed her to step up. She did that."
Of Roberson's overall contribution, Lappe added, "That's who Arielle is . . . she can score in a lot of different ways. She's going to play a lot of different positions for us. She's probably a little more effective on the block than anywhere else, but she's going to keep getting better than what we saw today."
After a year's absence, Roberson simply was elated to get back onto the court. "I just wanted to go out and play like I know I can and show everybody what I can bring to this team," she said. "My family was here (the Robersons watched Arielle's older brother, Andre, open with the CU men's team on Friday night) and of course it was my first game, so that's extra motivation as well. I also don't like to lose, so I think my drive to win was definitely a good push."
And the Buffs definitely needed it to finally put away the Vandals, who lost their opening game at Wyoming 86-53. Idaho scored Sunday's first basket, but that 2-0 lead was the visiting team's last advantage. That doesn't mean CU went unchallenged the rest of the way; in fact, the Buffs' first afternoon on the court was a wire-to-wire fight.
"It was definitely tighter than we thought it was going to be," Brittany Wilson said. "I think you see what we're saying about this team being so special now . . . you never think your first game is going to be so close, but it was. We were about to come together as a team; we fought until the end and ended up coming out on top."
Lappe credited Idaho: "They came out and fought and kept coming at us, which was great. It was a great game for us to be in."
Of the ten players Lappe used, nine scored; and nine of those ten players' minutes were in double figures. Lappe cited off-the-bench contributions by Lexy Kresl, who drained three-pointers on two of CU's first three second-half possessions, and Jen Reese, who scored six of her eight points during the first 10 minutes of the second half. Roberson also got half of her total during that span.
Lappe said Jeffery could be reinstated for CU's trip to Missouri-Kansas City on Sunday, Nov. 18. Had Jeffery not been in the lineup last season against Idaho, the Buffs would have been in trouble. With the Vandals up 59-58 with just over 2 minutes remaining in that meeting, Jeffery went on a tear, scoring seven of her career-best 30 points to rescue the Buffs, 68-59.
But CU would have to do without Jeffery this time around - and her teammates coped well. Idaho's Ali Forde scored the game's first points, but the Vandals' 2-0 lead - the last of the afternoon - was quickly erased by a Meagan Malcolm-Peck three-pointer. Roberson took over from there, scoring CU's next six points. Malcolm-Peck and Brittany Wilson combined for 10 of the next 15 points as the Buffs built an 11-point (25-14) cushion.
The Vandals wouldn't go away then or later. They used an 11-2 run to pull to 27-25, before baskets by Jasmine Sborov and Rachel Hargis gave the Buffs a 31-26 halftime lead.
CU ended the first half with 11 turnovers, a number that didn't please Lappe. But in the second half, especially coming out of time outs, she said her team's overall execution was better: "We did a much better job . . . of scoring or at least getting a shot out of a timeout and being a little bit more careful with the ball, which you could see in our turnovers." CU cut its second-half turnovers to seven, finishing with 18.
Behind Kresl's three-point shooting and Roberson's inside work, the Buffs built a pair of eight-point leads in the first 6 minutes of the second half. Kresl pair of treys during that span marked her 19th career game with two or more three-pointers.
But the Vandals weren't lacking for long-distance shooters. They got treys from Connie Ballestero, Christina Salvatore and Stacey Barr to creep to within four (43-39) with 14 minutes to play.
"We have seen it; we saw it last year a little bit," Lappe said of Idaho's long balls. "They have quick releases and get off shots fast."
Thanks to Roberson, CU was able to temporarily pull away before Idaho could fashion its next run. She scored consecutive baskets to restore a double-digit Buffs lead (54-44), but the Vandals weren't folding.
They closed to 56-50 on a conventional three-point play by Alyssa Charlston (team-best 16 points) and a trey by Krissy Karr, then to 56-52 on another basket by Charlston with just over 5:30 remaining. Another three-pointer by Karr less than 2 minutes later pulled Idaho to three back (58-55), but CU answered with one of two free throws by Roberson and an Ashley Wilson layup to go ahead 61-55.
The Vandals answered on three of four free throws by Charlston to cut their deficit to 61-60 with 3:04 remaining. Ashley Wilson responded with another layup for a 63-60 CU lead. After an Idaho miss and a CU rebound, Reese hit a pair of clutch foul shots to put the Buffs up 65-60 with 51.6 seconds to play, and Roberson followed by hitting one of two free throws 11 seconds later for a 66-60 CU advantage.
Idaho called timeout with 37.2 seconds remaining, then another with 22.5 showing after the Vandals couldn't get off a shot. When they did, they missed, but a double foul was called. Brittany Wilson and Charlston each made their free throws (68-62), then Barr hit a long trey to draw the Vandals to within 68-65.
With 13.8 seconds left, Brittany Wilson's pair of foul shots gave the Buffs their final five-point advantage.
"Win No. 1 is good to get; it feels good," Lappe said. "It was great to play somebody else other than ourselves. We have a lot of things to work on but we're happy where we're at . . . we had a lot of different players step up in crucial situations, which was good to see."