Brooks: Cal Zone, Late Drought Bad Combo For Buffs
BOULDER - What had looked so promising at halftime for the Colorado women's basketball team soured almost beyond belief Thursday night in the second half of CU's Pac-12 Conference home opener.
Up by 12 points with just over 12 minutes to play, CU allowed California to close out the game with a 29-4 run and prance out of a somber Coors Events Center with a 68-55 win.
"We're disappointed," Buffaloes coach Linda Lappe understated. "We played a good 32 minutes of basketball...then we went on a drought in the second half and we stopped defending. But you got to give credit to Cal. They did a nice job."
The Buffs didn't, and Lappe shouldered some of the blame for her team not reacting more effectively when the Golden Bears switched to a zone defense during their second-half resurgence.
"We haven't been in a zone offense all season except for a few possessions here and there," Lappe added. "But we have to bounce back."
And quickly; No. 4 Stanford visits Saturday (4 p.m., ROOT Sports), leaving the Buffs no time to mope if they hope to split their first Pac-12 home stand.
Falling behind by 11 points in the first half after a sluggish start, the Buffs picked up the tempo and led 37-30 at halftime. Their crisp turnaround continued in the opening minutes of the second half as they surged to a 51-39 advantage and appeared in command.
But they would score only four more points for the rest of the game - none in the final 7:10.
"I felt like we were doing everything we needed to do (to close out the first half and start the second)," said junior Chucky Jeffery, who scored a game-high 21 points and had 12 of her team's 18 second-half points. "Then we stopped boxing out and started getting a little sloppy with the ball and with our passes . . . . Those first 32 minutes, though, I thought we were doing exactly what the game plan was."
But do the math: that leaves 8 minutes for things to unravel - and did they ever.
After committing four early turnovers, the Buffs finished the half with only one more while they were assuming (temporary) control. But on three consecutive second-half possessions, they lost focus, the ball, the lead and eventually the game.
"You can't have three turnovers in a row, those are extra positions," said Lappe after watching her team commit nine second-half turnovers. "They had a 6-0 run in about 30 seconds. Just like Chucky said, we can't lose our focus. Against these teams we have to play a full 40 minutes."
The only other player in double figures for CU (13-2, 2-2) was sophomore post Rachel Hargis, who scored all of her 10 points in the first half. Cal (12-5, 3-2) was led by Layshia Clarendon's 18 points. Gennifer Brandon added 17 and Brittany Boyd 12.
The Bears, the nation's rebounding-margin leader, barely won the board battle 39-35, but held the Buffs to 37.7 percent from the field (23-of-61), including only 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) in the second half.
First-year Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said she told her team she was "as proud of this win as any we have had all season. I really thought our players stepped up. We played like a team and our depth came through."
Cal got 23 points off of CU's 14 turnovers, 12 second-chance points to CU's 6, outscored the Buffs 10-6 on the break and 13-9 from the bench.
The Buffs opened as if merely being at home for their first Pac-12 game was worth a double-figure lead. And it was - for the Bears. Setting the early tempo with steals on two of CU's first three possessions, Cal raced to an 11-point lead before the home team collected itself and set its own tempo.
After committing four turnovers in fewer than 5 minutes, the Buffs had only one in the first half's final 14:51 - including none in the final 11:54. Combine that with amped up offensive and transition games at altitude and Cal was in trouble - but only temporarily as it turned out.
Down 19-8, the Buffs didn't slow down until they had completed a 25-7 run and taken a 33-26 lead on a Lexy Kresl layup with 4:25 left before intermission. The big run featured several big contributors, including critical board work by freshman Jen Reese, a couple of key inside baskets by the inspired Hargis and seven points by Kresl, who didn't score in the second half.
By halftime, the Buffs led 37-30 and the Bears clearly needed a break. They also needed a second-half start to match their first. It didn't happen right away, but it would later.
After Jeffery drained a three-pointer from the right wing and followed that with a jumper in the key, the Buffs were up by a dozen (51-39). Then their nearly error-free play suddenly disappeared.
Over the next 41/2 minutes, CU got careless and Cal capitalized. Taking advantage of the Buffs' sloppy ball handling, the Bears launched a 10-0 run and pulled to within 51-49 on a Clarendon layup with 9:21 remaining.
Cal's surge didn't end there. A Brandon put-back tied the score at 55-55 with 5:49 to play, and when her free throw completed the three-point play the Bears had their first lead (56-55) since 24-23.
Cal was on a roll, in a zone - literally - and CU had no answer.
"I think the zone messed us up all together," Hargis said. "We got a little flustered and weren't really ready for it. We stopped doing the things that we know can do."
When junior guard Eliza Pierre drained a trey - her only three-point attempt of the night - from the right wing and Clarendon hit one of two free throws with 41 seconds to play, the Bears had completed their 29-4 closing run.
The Bears' comeback and the Buffs' collapse were complete.
"We just lost it mentally," Jeffery said. "I don't know if it's because we got comfortable, but we just got away from what we were supposed to be doing..."
General admission tickets for Saturday's Stanford game are available for $3 at CUBuffs.com/tickets or at the box office prior to the contest.