Colorado's Comeback Falls Short
BOULDER – A slow offensive start and a career-high 30 points from Washington State's Charlisse Leger-Walker kept Colorado chasing the lead Friday night at the CU Events Center. The Buffaloes got within two points late in the fourth quarter, but the result tilted towards the Cougars, 63-56.
Leger-Walker led all players in scoring, going 9-for-18 from the field and hitting four 3-pointers. Johanna Teder also hit four 3's on the night, helping her to 14 points. All 63 points came from the Cougars' starting rotation.
"I'm disappointed with the outcome," head coach JR Payne stated. "I thought we played a much better game than we did last time we played [Sunday]. But we got beat on the glass again and that's always tough. I thought when the offense was doing well the defense was struggling when the defense was great, the offense was struggling. We weren't able to put together much flow tonight. I thought we got a lot of good looks. We got to the free-throw line a lot and that was fantastic. We shot well at the free-throw line, but we missed a bunch of bunnies [layups] at the basket, which is tough and too many offensive boards for them. Things like that. We just didn't do what we had to do to win the game. We can't keep letting these games slip. We just can't. We have to fix it."
Colorado (14-6, 3-6 Pac-12) had three players score in double figures. Junior Quay Miler led the way with 14 points off the bench, going 10-for-11 from the charity stripe. Sophomore Tameiya Sadler and fifth-year senior Mya Hollingshed each contributed 10 points apiece.
WSU (14-6, 6-3 Pac-12) outshot Colorado 40.0% to 31.4%. The Cougars nearly doubled up the Buffs from the 3-point line, tying an opponent high with 11. The Cougars totaled 11 offensive rebounds on their way to outrebounding CU 36-28.
The Buffs climbed back to take a seven-point lead in the third quarter but saw WSU use a 21-8 run to overtake the lead.
"You have no idea how frustrating it is we [coaches] literally don't sleep," Payne added. "It's so frustrating. We're going to go back and we're going to watch the film. I didn't coach a perfect game. These guys didn't play a perfect game. None of us ever expected any of us to be perfect, but we have got to do a better job at executing the game plan. We've got to do a better job of being on balance and finishing at the basket. We've got to do a better job of communicating what coverage we're in. I mean, it's unbelievably frustrating."
How It Happened: Offense was hard to come by for both teams in the first 20 minutes. Washington State led 22-19 at halftime but neither team found any kind of success at the basket.
Colorado converted just six field goals in the half and shot 22.2 percent. Sherrod and Hollingshed combined for four of CU's six baskets. Sherrod's two makes came in the first quarter to help CU to a 12-10 lead after the first period. Hollingshed's two baskets proved to be CU's only makes of the quarter but came 7:32 apart. Her first basket tied the game at 14 early in the quarter but the Buffs proceeded to go 0-for their next-7, allowing WSU to crawl ahead 22-16. Hollingshed broke the CU drought with just over a minute to go in the half.
"When we turn on the film we're going to see that our pace was pretty poor," Payne noted. "The first half it felt pretty lethargic. I don't know why or how that happens because then in the third quarter it was a way faster pace. We were aggressive. We were moving. I think that's something we have to fix.
"We sure miss someone like Aubrey Knight who's going to get you three or four extra possessions with just pure effort. Obviously, Aubrey's not coming back, but somebody has to get us two or three more possessions."
Defensively, Colorado forced seven WSU turnovers in the first half but only scored two points off the turnovers. The Buffs' defense caused problems for the Cougars, holding WSU to 9-for-28 (32.1%) in the half.
The Buffs shook off the offensive rust in the third quarter, scoring more points (22) than they did in the first half. CU shot 50% (5-10) in the period and regained the lead inside the first two minutes. The Buffs led for 7:43 of the third quarter and twice had the lead reach seven.
"Our emphasis [in the third] was getting to be more aggressive and get more touches inside the paint," Payne explained. "I think that translated with us getting to the free-throw line. Which was great. To take that, internalize it and then do it was really good. But we just weren't able to get it done. The entire first half we shot 22% from the floor. It's very difficult to win a ballgame when you shoot that poorly."
A Tayanna Jones jumper gave CU its second seven-point advantage, 36-29, with 4:33 to play in the third quarter. WSU would then rip off a 21-8 run that put the Cougars up 50-44 with 6:30 left to play in the fourth quarter. Leger-Walker had 12 points in the run.
"I don't want to say we're known for doing this but as a team and as a program, but we know that we tend to go on runs and get complacent and don't do the little things," Miller said. "Like JR said, it is frustrating. I know we're looking for an answer, but I think the biggest thing is just to continue to pour into each other. That's our biggest thing. Just don't let this drift us apart or start pointing fingers at people. It's just frustrating."
Despite the run, the Buffs were able to keep WSU within striking distance. Frida Formann scored the next four points to cut the deficit to two, 50-48, with 4:30 to play. Baskets from Ledger-Walker and Teder pushed the WSU lead back to five, but the Buffs would be able to get back to within two with 1:21 to play.
Ledger-Walker drilled her final 3 of the night to take a 59-54 lead with 56 ticks left and she closed 4-for-4 from the free-throw line to close the night.
Turning Point: Sadler had a key block for the Buffs with 1:33 to play in the final quarter, resulting in a WSU shot clock violation. Jaylyn Sherrod got fouled going down the court and hit 1-of-2 from the free-throw line to get within two, 56-54. The Buffs pressed and Sherrod almost came up with a steal at midcourt but instead, it was Leger-Walker with a corner 3 with five seconds on the shot clock to get the lead back to 59-54.
Up Next: CU will close out the homestand on Sunday (noon MT) against Washington.
Notes: The Buffs fall to 10-3 at home, having lost three straight in Pac-12 play inside the CU Events Center…CU is now 1-4 this season when trailing to start the fourth quarter….CU's seven points in the second quarter were the fewest in a quarter this season…The Buffs' 19 second-half points was the fewest since 15 in the first half Stanford (Feb. 5, 2021)…CU started 10-10 from the free-throw line, with its first miss coming with 3:12 to go in the third quarter…Hollingshed moved past Jasmina Illic for 11th on CU's 3FGM list (145)…She also played in her 130th career game (fifth all-time).
On the team overall
"I don't think anything has changed, obviously we're not losing games on purpose. I think that we just became complacent and comfortable. Even the games we did win it's not like we played a perfect game. As we got into the conference, we were still doing the minor things that could cost us games and it came down to that. The little things that we're struggling with, that we need to focus on still we aren't really focusing on them, and they came back and bit us.
On the player perspective
"I think we really need to just come together as a team and really capitalize on stuff that we haven't been doing like rebounding and making shots really just going out and practicing on everything that we haven't been doing. There is a lot of time [left this season], but we have to do it like now we can't wait until game games building up".