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Buffs Open Two-Game CEC Stand With No. 11 Sun Devils

Jan 29, 2015

BOULDER - Colorado women's basketball returns to Boulder for a two-game homestand after an exciting but ultimately disappointing journey to the Northwest. The Washington road trip could have been much worse - Colorado played well enough to beat Washington and Washington State - but those two slim, painful losing margins are now the difference between the Buffs having a winning record and a losing one.

Colorado (9-10, 2-6) had a chance to tie on the final possession against the Huskies, but a botched play led to a Jasmine Sborov airball at the buzzer. The Buffs led the Cougars for virtually the entire game and held them to just 25 percent shooting, but a season-high 27 turnovers doomed them in the final minutes.

"We're playing really well, " Colorado coach Linda Lappe said. "We're playing the best that we've played all year, we're starting to hit our peak. Now, it's a matter of just being able to finish and bearing down when we have a shot to build a lead, or when we need a defensive stop, understanding what that looks like and how hard you have to work to be able to do that. "

The schedule gets no easier for Colorado now. They host No. 11 Arizona State (18-2, 7-1) Friday night at 7 p.m. The Sun Devils are off to the best start in program history and they climbed two spots in the national polls this week despite losing their last game to No. 7 Oregon State.

"Rebounding, " Lappe said when asked if the Buffs could take anything away from that game. "You have to rebound against Arizona State. And Oregon State's one of the better rebounding teams in the conference. I feel like up until the last game we've been one of the better rebounding teams in the conference. "

Arizona State had rolled through conference play ' including traditional Pac-12 powerhouse Stanford ' before that visit from the Beavers. The Sun Devils have stifled every offense they have faced. They allowed a conference-low 56.2 points per game, they have held 12 of their 20 opponents under 60 points, and their average win has come by more than 15 points.

Arizona State shuts teams down with tight perimeter defense ' it leads the Pac-12 and allows opponents to shoot just 23 percent from deep ' and with turnovers, forcing 17 a game. Still, Colorado should be able to get buckets from behind the arc. It hits 38 percent from beyond the arc as a team, and Lexy Kresl has shot better than 50 percent over the past four games.

If the Buffs want to shell the Sun Devils from outside, though, they will need Lauren Huggins to return to form. Colorado's lanky sniper hit only 2-of-8 from downtown on the Washington road trip and scored just six points across the two games.

"I wouldn't categorize her in any sort of slump, " Lappe said. "She has to be a defender first and foremost. She can be a really good one, and that's really what she has to bring, a level of toughness and a defensive presence and whatever she gives us on offense is awesome. "

The Buffs could also stick with the hot hand and continue to feed Jamee Swan on the block. She played the best two-game stretch of her career in Washington ' 22 points and 11 rebounds against the Huskies, 28 points (a career-high) and 7 rebounds against the Cougars. She is developing into one of the Pac-12's most dangerous back-to-the-basket threats and can unleash any of plethora of post moves on opposing centers.

"Over the shoulder hook, " Swan said when asked what her favorite post move is. "Doesn't matter which shoulder. We work every day, me and coach J.B. (assistant coach Jenni Benningfield) on either shoulder, so just a hook shot. Simple. Simple and easy. "

Still, Colorado must balance Swan's emerging game with the rest of its offense; Kresl, Swan, Jen Reese and Haley Smith could each go for 20 points on a given night, and any post-up slows an offense and hinders its continuity no matter how good the player on the block is.

"This last weekend was probably the best weekend of her career, " Lappe said. "The game was in slow motion for her and her defenders seemed like they were in slow motion to her. But at the same time we're at our best when we're versatile in how we're scoring and who is scoring. She did a nice job and scored a lot but we lost both games. "

Regardless of her offensive role, Swan's presence in the paint defensively will deter the Sun Devils from venturing too close to the bucket ' she is second in the conference with 2.1 blocks per game and is an effective one-on-one post defender. The Buffs will need Swan to clean up when any of Arizona State's guards find their way past the perimeter defense.

The Sun Devils start three guards and each has a defined role in their efficient offense. Redshirt junior Katie Hempen is the volume shooter, the gunner. She shoots herself into and out of hot streaks ' she hit 8-of-14 and 6-of-8 from deep against Oregon State but shot just 4-of-14 against Oregon the game before that. Hempen needs 10 shots to score her team-best 12.4 points per game; she shoots just 38 percent from the field and rarely draws fouls but also hits 38 percent from deep, so the Buffs must close out quickly and force her to beat them off the dribble.

Junior Elisha Davis is Arizona State's facilitator. She is third in the Pac-12 with 5.5 assists per game and her two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio is fourth in the conference. Yet she is neither a willing nor a particularly capable shooter.

The Sun Devils' third starting guard, Promise Amukamara, does everything. She shoots 49 percent from the field, 10th in the Pac-12, hits 38 percent from deep, plays tenacious defense and rebounds well for a guard GÇô she is third on the team in offensive boards.

In the frontcourt the battle between Reese and Swan and Arizona State's Sophie Brunner and Kelsey Moos will be critical. Brunner is third in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage and Moos is fifth. They both kill the offensive glass; the Sun Devils lead the conference in offensive rebounding percentage, corralling an unbelievable nearly 40 percent of their misses.

Swan and Reese are excellent rebounders in their own right but Colorado was dominated on the offensive glass in the final minutes of its loss to Washington State.

"Going into this game knowing that Arizona State is a really good offensive board team, we've been working a lot on boxing out and making sure we follow the ball and ball-hawk so that we can get it on the rebound, " Swan said.

The Buffs have shown varying flashes of greatness throughout conference play - unstoppable offense against UCLA, tight ball security against Utah, lockdown defense against Washington State - but those facets have yet to coalesce in one game. If, as Lappe said, Colorado is just beginning to peak, then Arizona State could take a punch to the mouth that it didn't see coming.