A game where the score was tied five times and the lead changed 12 times, proved too much for the 11th seeded Colorado Buffaloes women’s basketball team to hold on to in the first round of the Big 12 Championship.
Unlike the Baylor team who was missing star freshman Britney Griner, the Buffaloes had all their star players on the court. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to beat the sixth-seeded Bears. The Buffs fell 72-65 to nationally ranked No. 16 Baylor Thursday night at the Municipal Arena in Kansas City, Mo. The loss was CU’s 23rd straight to a ranked opponent.
Colorado’s tournament showing was much more impressive than their last meeting with the Bears. In their February match-up, CU managed only 42 total points and 13 field goals during the game. In this rematch, Colorado put up 39 points and made 14 field goals in the first half alone.
Despite their 39-31 lead at the half, the Buffs began to fall apart in the later part of the second half. Baylor outscored Colorado 41-26 in the final 20 minutes, had four fewer turnovers (eight compared to CU’s 12) and stole the ball six times, twice as many times as the Buffs.
CU head coach Kathy McConnell-Miller saw the changes that both teams made when they returned from the locker rooms. She said she believes the added ball pressure from Baylor caused her team to turn the ball over more and get less open looks. This pressure prevented the Buffs from getting into the same flow they had during their successful first half.
“From an offensive standpoint there was patience, execution, players making the extra pass and that was the difference offensively in the first half from the second half,” McConnell-Miller said after the game. “We didn’t have enough time in the second half to really execute and get into the flow of our offense.”
The Buffs came out strong in the beginning of the game. A 3-point jumper by junior forward Brittany Spears assisted by freshman guard Chucky Jeffery gave Colorado the early lead. Four turnovers by both teams in less than two minutes finally gave way to a three-point-play by Spears to give the Buffs a 6-2 lead, but it didn’t last for long in the back-and-forth game.
With 7:07 remaining in the first half, Baylor had a seven point lead behind the prowess of junior forward Whitney Zachariason, who finished the game with 17 points, with 15 of those coming from beyond the arc.
McConnell-Miller said that the Buffs’ 2-3 zone defense wasn’t putting enough pressure on Zachariason, and Baylor realized early on just how much of an asset she would be off the bench.
“She got a couple early on and gained some confidence, but as soon as they realized that we were staying in the zone they brought her off the bench fast, and they knew they needed somebody to spread the offense,” McConnell-Miller said of Zachariason.
However, the ever-battling Buffs had the answer to Zachariason in sophomore guard Alyssa Fressle. Her two treys helped narrow the margin to 27-26. CU then went on an 18-6 run to end the half.
Spears, who posted her twelfth 20-plus-point game, leading the team with 24 points and tied a career-high five steals, said the team tried to come into the second half battling as much as they did in the first.
“At halftime we were saying we’ve got to stay focused, don’t be happy with the lead and come out strong,” Spears said after the game.
However, the Buffs seemed to do just the opposite. In the first four minutes, Colorado was 1-for-6 from the field, but still held on to a 43-35 lead. Baylor managed to cut the lead down to three, but a long shot from senior guard Bianca Smith assisted by Spears raised the score to 46-40 with 15:25 remaining.
Five free throws from Baylor once again tied up the score, only to be broken by Spears 12 seconds later. With an assist from Jeffery, Spears scored and raised the Buffs 55-52.
The game remained close for the next five minutes, but shots that just wouldn’t fall and Baylor’s full-court press hurt the Buffs, whose only points in the last six minutes came from free throws. Jeffery’s last free throws helped narrow the margin to three, but it wasn’t enough to stop the enlivened Bears.
“I don’t know if it wore us out, some of those shots we just didn’t make,” Fressle said after the game. “I mean a couple rolled around, my layups, a couple by Chucky, she had a great drive and they just didn’t fall. There is not too much else to say.”
Even though their season is over, the Buffaloes remain hopeful for the years to come. Fressle said that freshmen Jeffery and Meagan Malcolm-Peck in combination with the strong core of the returning, more experienced players will make for a better, more improved team next year.
McConnell-Miller summed up the season by pointing out the team’s mistakes in the last few minutes, but by adding that during the off-season the team will get better because everyone will grow.
“It’s my job as a coach to focus on what we’ve done well, what we need to improve on in the off-season and how they’re going to get better,” McConnell-Miller said. “We’ve all got to grow. I’ve got to grow. The staff has to grow. The team’s got to grow and we’ve got to get better as a result of this season.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Marlee Horn at Marlee.email@example.com.