Buffs Run Over Pirates
BOULDER - Pay-back is sweet, and the Colorado women's basketball team savored it Sunday afternoon.
Even sweeter, though, is progress - and that's what Buffaloes coach Kathy McConnell-Miller savored most during her team's 80-54 dismantling of Seton Hall at the Coors Events Center.
"Everyone's asked me what I'm most pleased about," McConnell-Miller said following the Buffs' atonement for last season's dismaying 37-point loss to the Pirates.
"I'm most pleased about what's happened over a 12-month period - how our returning players have bought in, stay focused, how they've embraced our younger players . . . I'm most pleased about our development and our progress. That's what makes me happy, not necessarily the score."
Still, avenging that December debacle in South Orange, N.J., was important to McConnell-Miller's players.
"Last season was an embarrassment . . . it was important for us to come out today and get a 'W,'" said CU junior forward Brittany Spears, who responded with her 19th career double-double and fourth of the season. She scored 24 points and collected 12 rebounds, with her five three-pointers a career best.
CU freshman Chucky Jeffery added a career-high 19 points and six assists, while sophomore Alyssa Fressle contributed a season-best 10 - all in an early second-half run that helped the Buffs ice the game. Senior Bianca Smith chipped in with 11, including three of CU's 11 three-pointers.
"I'd been struggling a little bit," said Fressle, whose strong suit is in the fast break and scoring in transition. "I was fortunate enough to get out on the fast break and get some easy fast break points, which is what I love to do. This was a great win for us and we're going to keep building on it."
Winning their fourth consecutive game and fifth straight at the Events Center, the Buffs improved to 6-1, with that start the program's best since 2003-04 when former coach Ceal Barry's team opened 12-1.
CU plays next at Colorado State on Friday night - the Buffs' only road game until Jan. 12 when they visit Texas Tech in their second Big 12 Conference game. (CU opens league play on Jan. 9 against Missouri.)
The Buffs led by nine points (39-30) at halftime, but they were up by as many as 14 on two previous occasions. The best the Pirates (5-4) could do in the first 20 minutes was fashion a pair of early ties and pull to 21-19 before CU went on a 9-2 run.
Meagan Malcolm-Peck, a 6-foot-2 freshman, keyed that spurt, scoring seven of the Buffs points in the run and finishing with that total.
Not present for last season's blowout loss in New Jersey, Malcolm-Peck said CU's returnees hadn't dwelled on that defeat and the need to avenge it during last week's practices.
"But we definitely understood that we needed to come out and get this one," she said. "You always feel it, and we just wanted to get as much of a lead as we could and just keep going and playing hard."
Spears was more than the Pirates could handle in the first 20 minutes, hitting seven of her eight field goal attempts - including four of five treys - for 18 points. (She averages 18.7.)
Veteran Seton Hall coach Phyllis Mangina called Spears "unbelievable" and said Spears and her teammates "shot outstanding . . . I thought (CU) played really, really well."
CU hit 31-of-58 field goal attempts (53.4 percent) and was 11-for-21 (52.4 percent) from behind the arc.
The Buffs had to survive themselves in the opening 6 minutes, when they suffered a turnover a minute. But that dirty half-dozen was all CU would commit for the remainder of the half, and their first-half assist total (12 on 16 field goals) doubled their errors.
They finished with a season-best 21 assists on their 31 field goals.
It was a far better effort by the Buffs than in last season's meeting, when they managed but 13 first-half points on the Pirates' home court and trailed 43-13 in a blowout victory Seton Hall later would tout as "perhaps its finest performance of the season."
Yes, CU remembered . . . and got even (the series is now 1-1) rather than too mad to function.
Fueled by 10 points from Fressle, the Buffs opened the second half with a 14-2 run and took their largest lead to that point - 53-32 - with 14:45 remaining.
Four minutes later, CU increased its advantage to 61-36 on a free throw by Jeffery and her layup on the next possession. But Seton Hall followed with a 15-2 run to make the final 6:42 more interesting than the Buffs had planned.
The Pirates closed to 63-51 before a pair of free throws by Spears and a trey by Jeffery righted the Buffs and sent the Pirates packing.
McConnell-Miller said even with the big leads, she never felt that relaxed or in control of the game: "I am never to the poing where I feel like we can rest . . . . I like to reinforce that we teach them to play every possession as if the score is tied. I hope at no point that I ever let up or think that it was in hand."
With the exception of a lapse here and there, her team played like it got the message. Seton Hall got it, too.