Brooks: Utes Outlast Buffs To Win In OT
BOULDER - Holding an opponent to a pair of free throws in a basketball game's final 7-plus minutes usually brings a favorable result. On the other hand, missing a pair of free throws that would yield three-point plays in a two-point game . . . not so favorable.
As a result, the University of Colorado women's basketball team must file Saturday's game against Utah in the "not so" category. The Buffaloes rallied from an eight-point deficit to force overtime, but faltered in the extra period and were beaten 61-56 by Utah at the Coors Events Center.
In truth, as fortuitous as CU's late rally was, it needed potential close-out free throws by freshman Jen Reese and junior Chucky Jeffery in the final 3:26 that would have completed a three-point play by each and perhaps have made OT unnecessary.
"It came down to a possession-by-possession game and the difference was free throws . . . I didn't hit any of mine. It's disappointing, but that's what it came down to. We had the effort," said Jeffery, whose three foul line misfires accounted for half of her team's six misses (7-of-13).
Maybe pushing the loss beyond disappointing was Utah getting only two free throws by Iwalani Rodrigues in the final 7:09, allowing CU to come back from a 48-40 deficit. Reese and Jeffery each had four points in that 8-0 run, but each left the Events Center bummed about the free throw neither hit during that stretch.
"There have been a lot of games like this," Reese said. "We like to make it hard on ourselves. We've done that all season."
And surprisingly, they've done it all too often at home, where they're now 2-5 in Pac-12 Conference play. Included in the five losses are a pair of overtime defeats, the first 62-54 against UCLA, and a 68-55 loss to California that saw CU squander a 12-point lead in the final 12 minutes.
The Utes, who entered the game tied with CU for sixth place in the conference (each team had been 5-8), improved to 13-12 and avenged a 58-52 loss to CU in the Pac-12 opener for both teams on New Year's Eve. In that game, the Buffs rallied from a 10-point deficit as the Utes missed their final 14 shots.
But Saturday brought a different game against what appeared to be a different team. CU coach Linda Lappe said the difference was easily explained: "They're hitting shots, and anytime you hit shots you become a better team . . . they have very balanced scoring; their top four leading scorers showed why they're the top four leading scorers. They all came through at different times and they hit some clutch shots. The first time we played them they missed easy shots; tonight they made them."
While disappointed with the loss, Lappe said she believed the Buffs "played Colorado basketball tonight . . . I haven't been able to say that in a while in terms of our energy, enthusiasm and our effort."
The Buffs reduced their turnovers - 24 in their previous game to 12 Saturday - and outrebounded the Utes 38-30. They also scored 23 points off of Utah's dozen turnovers and got 10 second-chance points to the Utes' four.
Still, CU lost for the fifth time in six games and dropped to 16-9 overall and 5-9 in the league. The Buffs managed only one field goal - a Jeffery layup - in eight overtime attempts while the Utes hit three of four. Jeffery led CU with 15 points, while Julie Seabrook was the only other Buffs player in double figures (10). Reese collected a game-best 11 rebounds and added eight points.
Four Utah starters reached double figures, led by 6-3 forward Taryn Wicijowski's 16. Janita Badon and Rodrigues each scored 15 - Rodrigues hit three of her five three-point attempts - and Michelle Plouffe added 13, including three of five free throws in the final 16.7 seconds of overtime.
"I'm really proud of them," Utah coach Anthony Levrets said of his team. "This is our third overtime win; we're 3-0. Backs against the wall, we seem to perform at our best . . . I told them that our bus doesn't leave until 6 tomorrow morning and we will play to 6 if that's how long it takes. They laughed and I think that loosened them up quite a bit."
Lappe said her team "did some great things down the stretch to close the gap (in regulation) . . . Chucky started driving, we started going to the rim and she hit a few shots in the last minutes. I thought Jen made some nice reads. I thought our offense was better than it had been. But in the overtime we gave up too many points; you give up four points max in overtime and we gave up too many."
The Utes scored the last five points of the first half, overcoming a two-point Buffs advantage to lead 28-25 at intermission. Utah's largest lead of the half was four points, while CU was able to lead by just two on three occasions before surrendering its advantage at the half.
The Buffs had early problems in the paint with the 6-3 Wicijowski, who hit five of her seven first-half field goal attempts and one of three free throws for 11 of her 16 points. But Lappe said the Buffs "started doubling her at the end of the half and that really helped. We kept that going in the second half."
CU got the first five points of the second half - all courtesy of freshman Lexy Kresl - to take a 30-28 lead. But things quickly went downhill from there, as Utah launched a 12-3 run and took its biggest advantage of the night to that point, 40-33, with 11:29 to play.
Lappe called a timeout, and the Buffs cut the deficit to four (42-38) on a conventional three-point play by Ashley Wilson with 8 minutes remaining. But Badon negated that on the other end with her own layup and free throw.
And less than a minute later, Rodrigues' three-pointer from the left corner pushed the Utes up 48-40 with 7:09 remaining. But that would be Utah's last field goal in regulation.
Reese hit a layup to make it 48-42, but the Buffs were running out of time and needed someone to step up. Jeffery and Reese answered, with Jeffery working inside for a layup to pull CU to within 48-44. Reese was fouled while hitting a baseline jumper, but missed her free throw.
Still, with 3:26 left, the Buffs trailed only 48-46, and Jeffery tied it at 48-48 with a layup. She, too, was fouled, but she also missed her free throw.
Kresl didn't, hitting both ends of her one-and-one to give CU a 50-48 edge with 2:04 to play. Rodrigues tied it at 50 with a pair of free throws with 49.8 seconds to play, and Jeffery - trying to drive the right lane - had the ball taken away by Wicijowski with 26 seconds left.
Utah's Rachel Messer missed from the right corner with 2 seconds showing - and OT was next.
Badon scored Utah's first four points in the extra period, Jeffery converted a steal into a layup, then Wicijowski hit one of two free throws to put the Utes up 55-52 with 2:15 remaining.
A pair of foul shots by Reese cut the deficit to 55-54 and the Buffs got a stop and a rebound by Reese at the other end. A Jasmine Sborov layup attempt was thwarted by Wicijowski - but the Utes' forward fouled out on the play, sending Sborov to the line.
She hit both free throws, giving CU a 56-55 lead, then Rodrigues' trey from the left corner pushed Utah back in front 58-56. The Buffs called time out with 27.9 seconds to play.
Jeffery took the in-bounds pass, drove the right side but could neither hit the basket nor draw the foul. CU couldn't control the rebound and was forced to foul Plouffe with 16.7 seconds showing.
Plouffe hit both free throws, giving the Utes a 60-56 advantage - and the Buffs turned it over for the final time and once again fouled Plouffe. She hit one of two free throws, giving Utah its 61-56 final advantage.
CU travels next week, playing at No. 3 Stanford on Thursday (8 p.m., MST) and at California on Saturday (3 p.m., MST).