Buffs Advance In WNIT
BOULDER – Brittany Spears had a double-double and Jackie McFarland scored 21 points to lead Colorado to an 82-68 win over Gonzaga in the second round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) Monday night at the Coors Events/Conference Center.
Colorado, which wins its first post season game since the 2003 NCAA Tournament, improves to 17-14 and will host Villanova University in a third round game on Thursday, March 27, at 7 p.m. Gonzaga's season ends at 25-9.
Tickets for Thursday's game against Villanova are on sale now through the CU Athletic Ticket Office at 303-49BUFFS or click here to purchase online.
Spears had 22 points and 10 rebounds, notching her seventh double-double of the season and third in her last five games. McFarland nearly had a double-double of her own grabbing nine rebounds, but on a larger scale, she passed Tera Bjorklund for second place on CU's all-time scoring list. McFarland, now with 1,878 career points, also had four assists, two blocks and one steal.
Any signs of rust after CU's 13-day layoff since the Big 12 Championship were quickly whisked away as the Buffaloes made 11 of their first 15 shots and stormed out to leads of 16-6 and 27-13. Colorado moved the ball well in the opening half led by sophomore Bianca Smith who had matched her career high in assists (four) in the first four minutes of the game and eventually ended with a personal best six. Smith also came up big on the offensive end nailing 4-of-6 from downtown for 12 points.
Like all good teams, the reigning West Coast Conference champion Bulldogs fought their way back into the game. CU's shooting cooled enough for Gonzaga to embark on a 16-6 run that cut the CU lead to 35-31 with 2:51 left in the first half. The Buffaloes answered with a pair of jumpers by McFarland and a long 3-pointer by Dina Piterniece – just her second field goal of the season – as CU led 42-35 at the half.
The Buffaloes put themselves in good position to close out the game early in the second half. Gonzaga cut the lead to 48-43 with 15:04 remaining, Spears scored five straight points and Aija Putnina nailed a 3-point lead as the Buffs built their lead back up to double-digits at 56-43. CU's lead remained above eight points for the remainder of the contest.
Colorado played well defensively, limiting the Bulldogs to just 37 percent from the field. Offensively, the Buffs shot 51 percent (33-of-65), their best mark since hitting 52 percent at Missouri on Jan. 9.
"We had two weeks off, and that's a really long layover," CU head coach Kathy McConnell-Miller said. "We felt like we needed to approach it like we did in the preseason. It gave us an opportunity to re-teach some things and refine some things. It also gave us the opportunity to bring some players along with confidence and increasing their contributions. We had some players who looked refreshed tonight. What I told our team was, 'to build off the regular season, don't worry about the negatives and build off the positives.' We worked on improving the negatives. We were a refreshed team today and we played with more swagger than we did in conference play. The Big 12 really prepared us for tonight's game."
Colorado moved around its lineup for the first time since the Oklahoma State game on Feb. 2 with Kara Richards joining McFarland, Spears, Smith and point guard Susie Powers. Richards responded with six points, nine rebounds, two blocks and did not commit a turnover in 19 minutes. Putnina, who had started the last 27 games, contributed seven points and five rebounds off the bench.
The Buffs bench also was sparked by sophomore point guard Whitney Houston who had nine points and four assists while hitting 4-of-6 from the field...and she sang the national anthem before the game.
"It's huge to have another home game," McFarland said. "I love Coors Events Center. This is the first time we've been here over Spring Break and it's good to just be able to focus on basketball. We have great fan support and had a great showing tonight."