Vid intro: The CU women’s basketball team has slumped in the middle of the season, often falling apart at the end of the game with turnovers, missed shots and lack of effort. That all changed Sunday when the Buffs won by 16 points against the Utah Utes, a team they lost to by 2 points four days earlier.
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor
RSSBOULDER – Linda Lappe’s scouting report for Sunday’s Pac-12 Conference game against Utah didn’t change much – if at all – from last Wednesday night’s encounter in Salt Lake City. It didn’t need to.

Colorado’s coach was more focused on what her team didn’t do than most anything Utah did – and fine-tuning her team was the right approach. Lappe’s Buffs clamped down defensively, made a few offensive tweaks and dispatched the Utes 61-45 at the Coors Events Center.

“It was good to get that win,” Lappe said. “I thought our players stepped up and did some good things on the defensive end and in rebounding.”

Lexy Kresl, a point giard and three-point shooter, had missed several games with a possible injury, hot a three late in the game to stop a Ute run.

Lexy Kresl, a point giard and three-point shooter, had missed several games with a possible injury, hot a three late in the game to stop a Ute run.

Winning for only the second time in their past eight games, the Buffs (13-8, 3-7) scored the afternoon’s first points and never trailed thereafter. CU led 33-16 at halftime, by as many as 20 points early in the second half, and allowed the Utes (10-11, 3-7) no closer than 13 for the rest of the game.

‘D’ was key for the Buffs, who had shot below 40 percent from the field in nine of their previous 11 games. While Sunday’s shooting percentage didn’t climb above 40 (35.8), CU held Utah to a frigid 25.9 percent – well below the 38.8 the Utes shot in Wednesday night’s 58-55 win.

In that game, CU’s Arielle Roberson and Jen Reese combined for only nine points. By halftime Sunday, Roberson-Reese had 16 between them – Roberson with 9, Reese with 7. Reese didn’t score in the second half, but Roberson doubled her first-half productivity and finished as the game’s high scorer (18).

Roberson said Lappe’s characterization of the Buffs now as “underdogs” made them “all come out and be more aggressive . . . we threw the first punch and were more aggressive.”

Defensively, said Roberson, the Buffs “boxed out a lot better, got a lot of defensive rebounds. We were better on our fouls, so I think (Lappe) was very pleased about that. We were scrappy, we were in passing lanes, and that set the tone for our offense.”

Brittany Wilson added 10 points for CU, seven of them in the second half. Freshmen Haley Smith contributed eight points and eight rebounds, matching Roberson’s board total. Lappe said Smith “played tremendous. I liked her demeanor . . . she was aggressive and that gave us a lot of energy and helped our overall intensity.”

Smith, a 6-0 wing from Sammamish, Wash., called Sunday’s win “a good bounce-back game for us . . . I think our mentality is changing.”

Sophomore Jamee Swan, who had scored 15 points and collected eight rebounds in Wednesday night’s loss, was held out of Sunday’s first for violating a team rule. She played 5 minutes, totaling one point and two rebounds.

Utah had one player in double figures – guard Danielle Rodriguez with 11. Forward Michelle Plouffe, the Utes’ high scorer (14) in Wednesday’s game, went 1-for-10 from the field Sunday and finished with 7 points. Cheyenne Wilson, who had 11 points against the Buffs in the earlier meeting, managed nine in the rematch.

Lappe credited Roberson, Reese and Rachel Hargis for their defensive work on Plouffe and for turning Sunday’s game in a guards duel.

“We match up well with her (but) you always have to know where (Plouffe) is,” Lappe said, noting that Hargis did “a great job” in spelling Roberson, which allowed Roberson to stay fresh on the offensive end.

The Buffs raced to a 33-16 halftime lead, finally ending a long 3-point drought and getting an impressive first-half finish from freshman Zoe Beard-Fails.

After missing the last 13 trey attempts – a span of 88:33 or two-plus games – CU got a 3-pointer from Reese to take a 5-2 lead that was never relinquished. Roberson closed the Buffs’ first-half scoring with a straightaway triple from the top of the key.

CU finished the half 2-of-6 from beyond the arc and got one of its top 3-point shooters – junior guard Lexy Kresl – back on the court. Kresl, out for the previous three games with a lower leg injury, played 4 first-half minutes but did not attempt a shot. But with 6:45 to play in the game, she knocked down a critical trey to send CU ahead 50-31. The Buffs finished 3-of-11 from behind the arc.

Lappe said Kresl wasn’t necessarily ahead of schedule in her comeback, noting that she will be brought along slowly and monitored for this week’s games. The Buffs visit the Pacific Northwest this week, playing at Oregon State on Friday (9 p.m. MT) and at Oregon on Sunday (3 p.m. MT).

Beard-Fails, who had scored six points in the previous nine Pac-12 games, matched that total in final 2:38 of Sunday’s first half. The 6-2 Beard-Fails, of Herndon, Va., followed a pair of free throws with two inside baskets as the Buffs stretched their advantage to 30-16.

Half a minute later, Roberson drained her 3-pointer, giving CU its 17-point lead at the break. The Buffs owned a healthy 27-12 rebounding edge after the first 20 minutes (51-35 for the game), but they committed 11 turnovers (17 for the game) which the Utes converted into 11 first-half points – the key number in keeping Utah as close as it was after one half. The plus-15 board advantage was the Buffs’ biggest in a half this season.

CU shot 42.9 percent in the opening half and went into the second half wanting that stat to hold up. It didn’t, but the Buffs compensated on the defensive end. They kept their intensity up to open the final 20 minutes, opened a pair of 20-point leads and kept the Utes playing catch up for the remainder of the game.

Utah coach Anthony Levrets applauded CU for adjusting after Wednesday’s game: “When they played big the first time, we had our two guards guarding Arielle on the perimeter, and then that allowed Plouffe to guard Reese.

“When they went back small today, it was a really good move by them because then our ‘five’ man has to either guard Reese or Roberson –and neither one of them is ever a ‘five.’ Playing on the perimeter was really hard for our big girls. It was a great adjustment by Colorado and I give a lot of credit to them.”

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU