Brooks: Ogwumike, Cardinal Too Strong For Buffs
SEATTLE - For just over a half Saturday night, the Colorado Buffaloes showed they could stay with powerful Stanford. Staying with Chiney Ogwumike and remaining in touch with their game proved to be much more difficult for the Buffs.
Behind Ogwumike's 25 points and 19 rebounds, the top-seeded Cardinal finally pulled away from the fourth-seeded Buffs for a 61-47 win and advanced to Sunday's Pac-12 Conference Tournament championship game at KeyArena.
The fourth-ranked Cardinal (30-2) plays No. 3 seed UCLA (25-6), which upset No. 5 seed California 70-58 in Saturday night's first semifinal.
"I'm proud of how we played; we played hard the whole game," CU coach Linda Lappe said. "I liked how intense we were for about 30 minutes and then I thought our missed shots began to affect our demeanor . . .
"Stanford is a good team for a reason; they execute when they need to execute. We've got to understand that teams that are good are going to make runs and not beat themselves. We have to go get it. As you get in the NCAA Tournament you understand it's one-and-done . . . I have no doubt we'll be ready to go."
Losing for the first time in 11 games, the No. 18 Buffs (25-6) now will wait until Selection Sunday to see their NCAA future - and it should be bright. CU hosts first- and second-round NCAA Women's Tournament games at the Coors Events Center on March 23-25. Chances appear good that the Buffs will open the tournament on their home court.
The Buffs held a 28-27 halftime lead Saturday night, with their defense to thank. The Cardinal shot just 28.1 percent (9-for-32) in the first 20 minutes, and had it not been for Ogwumike, Stanford would have been deep in the woods with no way out.
The 6-4 junior was scoreless for the game's first nine minutes, but once she got going, the Buffs had a hard time handling her.
"She's good . . . a tough load in there," Lappe said. "She plays a lot of minutes, she's fit, strong and has a good skill set. I thought we made her work for everything she got - that was one of our goals. I thought in the end her rebounding hurt more than anything else."
Lappe was right about the Buffs making Ogwumike work for her points. In her 39 minutes, Ogwumike hit just nine of her 24 field goal attempts but was 7-for-10 from the free throw line. The Cardinal attempted 29 free throws, making 22, while the Buffs only attempted four, making three of those.
Over the first half's last 11 minutes Ogwumike scored 14 of the Cardinal's 18 points. And by halftime she had a double-double, collecting 10 of Stanford's 21 first-half rebounds. The Cardinal won the board battle 43-37. Stanford also outscored CU 26-16 in the paint and got 18 points off of the Buffs' 15 turnovers. The Cardinal committed 10, resulting in 13 Buffs points.
Stanford, said CU senior Chucky Jeffery, "started getting the ball into Chiney and started knocking down shots . . . we weren't making shots and that got us in a little slump. We couldn't sustain anything and couldn't get on a run to answer. Bottom line is we couldn't knock down our shots."
CU junior post Rachel Hargis opened on Ogwumike and was doing a credible job until picking up her second foul. The defensive chore then went to, among others, redshirt freshman Arielle Roberson and true freshman Jamee Swan.
"She's a really good player, very strong, physical and active," Roberson said. "We managed and held our own for a time."
During that time, the Buffs needed to be more efficient offensively, but couldn't. "Defensively we were outstanding," Lappe said. "Without the last few minutes there we held them to about 55 points (it was 55-42 with about six minutes remaining). And when you hold Stanford to 55 points you have to win. We missed a lot of good shots, we took good shots, but we didn't knock them down. You can only hold them for so long before they start to build that gap."
With a team-high 19 points, Jeffery moved into sixth place on the school's career scoring list. Roberson added 10 points and eight rebounds, and junior Brittany Wilson added contributed six points, three of them on the 100th three-pointer of her career.
If the Buffs were leading by only a point at halftime, they believed they were sending a larger message. At halftime of their first meeting in Boulder, CU trailed by 17. Three weeks later at Stanford, the Buffs trailed by nine at the break.
The Buffs went on to lose both games by double figures, so Saturday night they measured major progress at halftime with a single digit. Lappe liked her team's first-half effort, but added, "We're not into moral victories; we're not happy that we were ahead at halftime. We wanted to win the game."
CU got a three-pointer by Lexy Kresl to open the second half and took a 31-27 lead. But Stanford caught up quickly at 36-36 and just kept going. The Cardinal? got a conventional three-point play from Amber Orrange, a Sara James trey and two free throws by Ogwumike to take a 41-36 lead with 13:05 to play.
It was the largest lead of the night by either team and in a bump-and-grind game like this it looked even larger. And it grew.
After two empty Buffs possessions, a pair of baskets by Mikaela Ruef completed a 9-0 run and opened a nine-point (45-36) Stanford lead. With 10:38 remaining, CU needed a timeout, and if the Buffs weren't fully on the ropes, reaching out to them was no problem.
Stanford took its first double-figure lead (49-38) on a pair of Ogwumike free throws, then she added two more points with a steal and layup with just over nine minutes to play. The Cardinal increased its advantage to as many as 15 in the final three minutes.
"We competed well for a huge portion of the game," Lappe said. "We stopped defending a little and that's when they went on their run. We have to learn how to score and step up against good teams when they make a run."
Jeffery said the first half and the early portion of the second 20 minutes showed the Buffs that, "We've got a lot of fight in us, we showed a lot of resilience in that first half. To hold the No. 4 team in the nation to that type of half was good for our team. We know what it takes and we know we have to take that extra step and put a 40-minute game together."
The 14-point loss, she added, "doesn't take away from our confidence . . . we're not down. We just have to regroup for the NCAA Tournament."