Defense Picks Up Offense In 56-51 Win Over Colorado State
BOULDER — Junior Jackie McFarland had 19 points and freshman Aija Putnina pulled in a career-high 14 rebounds as a solid defensive effort led the University of Colorado to its 600th win with a 56-51 triumph over Colorado State University Wednesday night at the Coors Events/Conference Center.
Colorado improves to 5-2 overall and is off to its best start since the 2003-04 team that started 6-1 and made the program's last NCAA Tournament appearance.
On a night when the Colorado offense was off, the defense picked up the slack. Colorado was limited to just 30 percent from the field (19-of-63) but forced 21 Colorado State turnovers and held its own turnovers down. The Buffs turned the ball over just eight times, their lowest single-game total since Jan. 21, 2006, when they had eight in a home loss to Iowa State. CU entered the game giving up 23 turnovers per game.
"This particular team is probably one of the most exciting teams to coach, but at times the most challenging," CU head coach Kathy McConnell-Miller said. "We continue to get better, but somehow when we improve on one of the areas we are focusing on we lose something else. I attribute that to youth. The only thing I disliked tonight were some of the ball handling decisions down the stretch."
CU entered the game shooting 49 percent as a team and had actually shot better than 53 percent in its last two games. Wednesday's percentage is the Buffs' lowest in a win since the modern record keeping era began with the 1978-79 season.
The Buffaloes missed their first 10 shots of the game, but the Rams didn't fare much better hitting only 2-of-11 to open the game as CSU led just 4-0, four minutes in. After a timeout, freshman guard Bianca Smith came off the bench to put a spark in the CU offense. Smith hit a pair of 3-pointers over the next 3:25 to give the Buffs a 14-9 lead.
CU increased its edge to eight at halftime (30-22), but CSU fought back with an 11-3 run to open the second half and tie the score at 33-33. Colorado quickly built the lead back up to eight on a 3-pointer from Susie Powers, a driving layup by Whitney Houston and a McFarland bucket off a Houston pass.
Although the Buffaloes never trailed after that point, they could also not extend the lead beyond 10 points. CSU's leading scorer Kelly Jo Mullaney had 12 of her team-high 17 points in the second half and converted three free throws with just 17 seconds left that closed the CU lead to 54-51. Powers, who had fouled Mullaney to give her the three free throws, responded with two of her own that iced the game.
The freshmen trio of Putnina, Houston and Candace Rucker helped the Buffaloes fend off CSU rallies at every twist and turn. Putnina registered double digit rebounds for the third-straight game and fell just two points shy of a third-straight double-double finishing with eight. Twelve of her 14 rebounds came on the defensive in and she also blocked a pair of shots.
Rucker had six points and two rebounds and was continuously in the hip pocket of the CSU backcourt. She had a big block on a CSU fast break and also came up with a steal in her 18 minutes. Houston added three steals to her five points and three assists.
"With every play we are improving," Rucker said. "There is still room for a lot of improvement."
Colorado will return home to wrap up its four-game home stand by hosting the University of Southern California on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 2 p.m. in the Coors Events Conference Center.