Buffs Push Past Pioneers, Eye Seton Hall
BOULDER - December's first week might be too early in the college basketball season for pay-back games . . . but then again, is it ever too early?
Easily dispatching the University of Denver 84-57 on Wednesday night, the Colorado women's basketball tuned up for Sunday's 1 p.m. visit by Seton Hall, which buried the visiting Buffaloes 77-40 last season.
"They came at us pretty hard and never let up," Buffs coach Kathy McConnell-Miller said of the Pirates. "I talked to the team in the locker room afterwards and said, 'Remember how you feel right now' . . . but we're a different team today, with different players."
Viva la difference . . .
In routing the Pioneers, the Buffs improved to 5-1, winning their third consecutive game and fourth straight at home behind a career-best 16 points by senior Courtney Dunn and 17 by Brittany Spears, who smacked the Coors Events Center court with her face late in the game and required one stitch to close a cut lip.
"Yeah, it's all right," Spears said afterwards, holding an ice pack to her lip. "I still look good though."
DU, dropping to 1-4, and CU haven't played in 10 seasons (Nov. 19, 1999). The Pioneers, featuring former Buffs guard Shelley Sheetz on their bench as an assistant coach, are midway through a six-game road stretch. They don't return home until Dec. 14 against Florida International.
Dunn, who with Smith are CU's two lone seniors, appears ready to finish strong in what has been an enigmatic career. Her perimeter shooting touch never has been questioned, but at 6-foot-4 her coaches have pushed her to take her game inside.
"What did it for me (Wednesday) was coach McConnell-Miller and coach (Tom) McConnell telling me I needed to be more of an inside presence instead of settling for threes," Dunn said. "I took that to heart and went out and executed."
Dunn, of Berkeley, Calif., didn't abandon her perimeter game against DU, hitting two of three from behind the arc. However, she adhered to her coaches' wishes and successfully moved inside, where she collected a team-best six rebounds and added two of the Buffs' 13 assists.
She finished the first half with a career-best 14 points, surpassing her previous career-high of nine points, registered during her freshman season.
McConnell-Miller said she merely told Dunn she was going "to play her . . . I tried everything else. I told her, 'The last thing is, I'm putting you in the lineup. This is really it.' She's got the biggest up-side of any player on the team."
CU took its biggest lead of the first half - 38-28 - on a three-pointer at the intermission buzzer by Smith, who finished with 13 points. But fashioning that 10-point advantage took a 15-4 run by the Buffs over the half's final 3:55 after they had trailed 24-23.
Smith keyed that late surge with eight points, while Jeffery added five and assisted Smith on her halftime buzzer beater.
"When coach called that play, I knew we were going to get it," said Jeffery, who scored 12 points. "I knew we were going to come back out in the second half and have momentum. We got on the floor and we went after it."
The Pioneers, who led just twice in the game, got their first seven points courtesy of senior forward Ashly Robinson, who had only more point before intermission.
"Our first-half post defense left a lot to be desired," McConnell-Miller said, but adding she was "really pleased" with her team's overall performance. "Our younger players get better every time they step on the floor."
DU kept itself in the game by hitting 12-of-16 first-half free throws to CU's seven-of-seven. The Buffs scored five more field goals (13-8) than the Pioneers in the opening half.
Also aiding the visitors in the first half were eight Buffs turnovers - two more than their assist total. But the Pioneers matched their host's number of errors, and in one late stretch DU failed to convert three consecutive CU turnovers into any points.
The Buffs were more careful after intermission, committing just six turnovers in the second half. They finished with 13 assists.
CU opened the second half by outscoring DU 7-1 to take a 16-point lead (45-29) - the biggest of the night to that juncture.
But the Buffs weren't in the mood to let up, pushing ahead by 19 points three times over the next 31/2 minutes, by 21 (63-42) on a conventional three-point play by Smith and by 23 (65-42) on a put-back by Julie Seabrook.
CU eventually led by as many as 29 points, and barring a late collapse - which didn't happen - the Buffs easily had win No. 5 in the rearview mirror and Seton Hall dead ahead.
Said McConnell-Miller: "We'll go back and look at some edits from that game and refresh the memory a little bit."