Strong Second Half Pushes Buffs Past Trojans
It's been a tough road trip for the No. 22 Colorado women's basketball team, with three straight road losses against nationally ranked opponents in the past two weekends.
On Sunday, though, the CU women had one last chance to pull out a road win over the Southern California Trojans - and this time, they made it happen.
With a solid second-half effort on both sides of the ball, Colorado pulled away from the Trojans for a 65-49 victory.
"I really liked our toughness in this game," said Colorado head coach Linda Lappe. "We didn't have any of that on Friday, and so it was nice to kind of get our identity back because that's who were are when we're playing our best."
It was a success that came at a much-needed time, as the Buffs were in the midst of their longest losing streak of the season. After falling to top-10 teams Cal and Stanford last weekend, Colorado shot less than 30 percent from the field in a 62-46 loss to No. 18 UCLA on Friday.
"I think we knew we could definitely win this game and that we had to win this game," said redshirt freshman forward Arielle Roberson, who led the Buffs in scoring with 16. "We just knew we had to do it in a fun way and not make it too stressful."
The stress was certainly still there in the first half, as the Buffs and Trojans traded baskets and both teams struggled to gain a solid advantage. The lead changed eight times throughout the half, and neither team went up by more than five.
In the four minutes before intermission, however, USC found its momentum and went on a 13-3 run to reverse Colorado's five-point lead to a five-point lead of its own by halftime (31-26).
The Buffs shot 36 percent from the field in the first half compared to USC's 33, but the Trojans were efficient from the line with an free throw percentage of 89.
Colorado, though, took control at the start of the second half, going on an 8-0 run and forcing five turnovers in the process to build a three-point lead.
"I kind of had a feeling that (the Trojans) were going to get tired in the second half," Lappe said. "And I think that's what happened. I think we pushed the ball really well at them in the first half, we were physical with them in the first half, and I think that wore on them in the second half."
With 12:17 remaining, Roberson knocked down an "and-1" play to put the Buffs up eight (41-33). Four minutes later, senior guard Chucky Jeffery scored on a steal and a fast break to give CU a 10-point lead.
In the final two minutes, Colorado went on an 8-1 run capped by a Roberson trey and a Jeffery free throw, erasing USC's chance for a late-game comeback.
By the final buzzer, the Buffs had gone up 16 for a 65-49 victory.
Lappe said the improvement her team made from Friday night's struggle to Sunday's success was indicative of a high-level team.
"Everybody has a bad game, championship teams have bad games," Lappe said. "But the real championship teams respond in a great fashion. They can let it go, they can take it for what it's worth, and they can get a little mad and come back even stronger. I think that's what's going to happen to us after that Friday night game."
Colorado demonstrated its depth in both scoring and rebounding on Sunday, with four players scoring in double figures and six players grabbing five or more boards.
In addition to Roberson's game-high 16 points, Jeffery scored 15 and grabbed 10 rebounds in the process for her fifth double-double of the season. Junior guard Brittany Wilson added 12 points, while sophomore guard Lexy Kresl scored 11 and grabbed six rebounds.
Overall, the Buffs out-rebounded the Trojans 44-29, with 13 of those on the offensive end. Colorado ended the game shooting 40.4 percent from the field, holding USC to just 27.5 percent.
Junior forward Cassie Harberts led the Trojans in scoring with 14 total points, below her average of 18.7, while sophomore guard Ariya Crook added 10.
The win bumps Colorado's record to 16-5 overall and 5-5 in the Pac-12 Conference, while USC falls to 8-13 and 5-5 in conference play. The Trojans remain unsuccessful against ranked teams (0-6) so far this season.
Though the Buffs may be only .500 in conference play, their start to the season has been far from smooth sailing. Half of Colorado's matchups so far in conference play have been against nationally ranked opponents, and four of those have been against top-10 Cal and Stanford teams.
Only one of Colorado's next eight opponents, Washington, currently has a better record than the Buffs in the Pac-12.
The CU women return to the Coors Events Center next week with matchups against Oregon State on Friday and Oregon on Sunday.