Furious Comeback Keeps Buffs Perfect
SALT LAKE CITY - Colorado rang in the Pac-12 Conference era in style, erasing a double-digit deficit in the final 10 minutes and defeating Utah 58-52 Saturday afternoon at the Huntsman Center.
The comeback allows Colorado to remain unbeaten at 12-0 overall, tying for the second best start in team history (1980-81). Utah drops to 7-5 in what was the league opener for both schools. The win was also Colorado's sixth straight on the road dating back to last year, its best string since 2003-04.
Utah was able to build a 10-point lead, 48-38, with 10 minutes left in the game by doing two things well, hammering the paint and keeping Colorado's two leading scorers - Chucky Jeffery and Lexy Kresl in check. Utah outscored the Buffaloes 28-14 in the paint while Jeffery and Kresl had been limited to nine points to that juncture.
The Utes defense also looked to force CU to shoot from the outside - and to make it someone other than Jeffery and Kresl put it up. And the Buffaloes did just that, senior Julie Seabrook led all players with 17 points, including a personal-best four 3-pointers. Sophomore guard Brittany Wilson came off the bench to score 14, including 3-of-6 from downtown.
As a team Colorado shot 48 percent (10-of-21) from 3-point range.
"Utah was extremely aggressive in the post," Seabrook said. "We couldn't get a lot inside early on, but we've been working on our outside shots all week. We had the confidence to step up and hit those shots."
While Colorado stayed close with its outside shooting, Utah's front court was scoring at will. Michelle Plouffe and Taryn Wicijowski combined for 29 points, most of them inside. When Iwalani Rodrigues hit a pair of free throws to give Utah a 52-44 lead with 8:33 remaining, CU's winning streak looked to be in jeopardy.
But the Utes didn't score again, missing their last 14 shots and just enough time for the Buffaloes to make one final push, with Jeffery at the controls.
"We knew we had to play better and get stops," CU head coach Linda Lappe said. "I knew our offense would finally catch fire, and it did at the end.
"We're just happy to come here and get a road win, and the first win of the conference (season)."
Jeffery, who had nine of her 13 points in the final nine minutes, started Colorado's decisive 14-0 run with a steal in the Utah back court which translated into a conventional 3-point play to cut the deficit to 52-47 with 7:30 left.
CU snipped the lead down to 52-48 on a Wilson free throw but missed a golden opportunity to completely erase the deficit quicker when a Meagan Malcolm-Peck steal led to a wide open Jeffery drive in transition. Wicijowski was called for an intentional foul, which gave CU two free throws and the ball. But Jeffery missed both and the Buffs turned the ball over on the ensuing possession.
No matter though, the score stayed the same for the next three minutes. After a time out, a calm Jeffery took over. The Buffs wisely had her post up against Utah point guard Janita Badon, who had four fouls. Jeffery quickly scored on that matchup to cut the Utah lead to two. After a Wicijowski miss, Jeffery tied the game at 52-52 with a running shot on the baseline.
"I got more aggressive at the end of the game and the last 10 minutes we came together," Jeffery said. "We knew there was more than enough time to get back in the game. I was frustrated early, but coach Jennie (Baranczyk) pulled me aside and calmed me down. (The coaching staff) had me post up (Badon) and after that bucket it took off from there."
Jeffery put CU up for the first time since the opening minutes of the second half on a jumper with 1:59 remaining. Then the final blow came when Jeffery threatened again with a drive, but this time she kicked it to the top of the key where Seabrook hit her fourth 3-pointer with 59 seconds left.
"Once they (Utah) started double-teaming me again, it allowed me to pass out to Julie, who had been making big shots all night," Jeffery said.
"We played strong the last eight minutes and hit some key shots," added Lappe. "We had a lot of players step up during that time."
Seabrook and Wilson were the stars of the first half for Colorado, combining for 21 of CU's 31 points. The Buffaloes had a nine point first half lead (20-11) thanks to a 10-0 run that was all Seabrook and Wilson.
Trailing 11-10, Wilson gave CU the lead with a steal and layup in the Utah back court. Seabrook then scored the next five, including a conventional 3-point play. Wilson capped off the run with her first of two first half 3-pointers.
Wicijowski, scored four straight to bring the Utes back to within 20-15, but Wilson answered with her second long bomb. Utah cut the gap to 31-29 at the half with a 6-0 run and actually extended that run to 14-0 early into the second, leading from then until CU's final run at the end of the game.
"We never stopped believing," Lappe said.
Colorado travels to the Pacific Northwest next week with games at Washington on Thursday, Jan. 5 (8 p.m. MT) and Washington State on Saturday, Jan. 7 (2 p.m. MT).