BOULDER - Competing as a member of the Top 25 is a relatively new experience for the Colorado women's basketball team - and that inexperience might have showed early on Saturday afternoon.
But by the end of the first half, the No. 25 Buffaloes had settled in and were playing the part of a nationally ranked team. Using a 23-3 run to close the first 20 minutes, CU took full control and crushed Utah Valley 81-45 at the Coors Events Center.
The win was the 700th in the women's program's history and kept the Buffs unbeaten (10-0) this season. It was their 23rd straight victory in regular-season non-conference games and gave them a 30-4 non-conference record under third-year coach Linda Lappe.
"It's exciting to know where we are at this point," Lappe said. "It's good to go into a break without a loss . . . there have been a lot of upsets in the last week or so; we wanted to make sure that wasn't us."
The Buffs, she said, finally "got a feel for the game" after their shaky start and eventually "did nice things in spurts" - such as hitting the open player on offense and showing intensity on defense.
The gnarly defense was particularly apparent in the first half; Sammie Jensen, Utah Valley's leading scorer (17.7 average) and the Great West Conference player of the year in 2011-12, was held scoreless in the first 20 minutes and finished the game with nine points.
Benefitting from finding open spots and getting crisp passes from her teammates, CU's Jen Reese led all scorers with a career-high 16 points. She got help from Chucky Jeffery (12), Brittany Wilson (11) and Arielle Roberson (10). Jeffery also had nine rebounds and seven assists.
"I just kind of got into a little flow," Jeffery said. "I love dishing the ball out more than anything . . . I was just playing basketball and coach wanted us to rebound, so I did what I was asked to do."
The Buffs never trailed, but despite jumping to a 7-0 lead they didn't open like a Top 25 team. Jeffery said the Buffs were so intent on not letting their first national ranking since 2008 affect their play that it probably did to start the game.
"We have little distractions here and there and we were able to pull through," she said. "So that was a good thing."
The Wolverines caused some difficulties with their matchup zone defense and switching man-to-man. "Going in, we were ready but we were a little frantic in the beginning," said Reese, who hit six of her 10 field goal attempts and was four-of-five from the free throw line. "We just had to calm down. We knew they would switch (defensively), so it was more of us just hurting ourselves."
But the Buffs' defense also presented big problems for the Wolverines. Lappe said her team's 'D' "kept us in the game . . . we were very solid. We wanted to hold them to 45 points and we did that. It just took a little time for our offense to catch fire and we did that with transition baskets."
Four consecutive free throws by Reese with 8:03 left before intermission opened a seven-point lead (18-11). And with that, the Buffs were off and running. Finishing the half with its 23-3 run, CU led 37-14 at intermission.
The Buffs didn't ease off in the second half, going up by 31 (59-28) on a three-pointer by Wilson with 12:55 remaining, then getting a layup by Rachel Hargis (nine points, seven rebounds) to extend the lead to 33 (61-28) about 40 seconds later. They led by as many as 36 twice in the final 4:30.
Freshmen Jamee Swan (eight points, career-high seven rebounds, two steals) and Kyleesha Weston (career-high eight points, three assists, two rebounds, two steals) came off the bench and contributed their most effective minutes.
Swan said her 21 minutes "gives me confidence, and I think it gives our team confidence that they can trust in us as freshmen to do what we need to do when we're asked to do it."
Tina Doughty led Utah Valley (4-10) with 13 points and was the only Wolverines player in double figures. Utah Valley shot only 16.7 percent (4-for-24) from the field in the first half and finished the game at 30.6 percent (15-of-49).
Meanwhile, once the Buffs got untracked, they hit 15 of their 34 first-half field goal attempts (44.1 percent) and were at 47.9 percent (34-of-71) for the afternoon.
CU outscored Utah Valley 48-20 in the paint and 16-4 on fast breaks. The Buffs converted 16 Wolverines turnovers into 20 points, committed a season-low six turnovers themselves, and outrebounded the visitors 47-30.
CU plays New Mexico next Saturday in the second game of a men's/women's doubleheader at the Events Center. The men's game against Hartford begins at noon.