Even the harshest of disciplinarian and perfectionist coaches would have had a hard time finding blemishes in the Colorado Buffaloes’ 74-56 win over the CSU Rams Thursday night at Coors Events Center. With the win, CU’s women’s basketball team remains perfect through its first nine games of the season.
Perhaps the fact that Colorado found itself down 6-0 to the Rams in the opening minutes of the game deserves some criticism, but on the night, the Buffs displayed great ball movement and played solid defense.
“Our team needed to be tested, we needed to play a really good team like Colorado State,” said JR Payne, head coach. “I’m really proud of the way we responded … we did the little things when it mattered most.”
To say that sophomore guard Kennedy Leonard was on fire would be erroneous. She was as hot as napalm or maybe a recently erupted volcano. Leonard led all scorers with 31 points in the win, a career high, and was an assassin from long range, sinking seven of the 11 shots she took from beyond the arch. She went 9-of-17 from the floor on the night.
Leonard’s seven converted three-pointers were the most since Bianca Smith’s performance against Nebraska in 2009. Leonard continues to be a bane of Colorado State’s existence, as she now has averaged 25.5 points per game in her contests vs. the Rams.
“[Tonight was] a good team win,” Leonard said. “Everybody did exactly what they needed to do. A win’s a win.”
After quickly falling behind 6-0, Leonard sparked the Buffs’ offense, scoring the team’s first five points of the game. A layup by senior guard-forward Haley Smith put the Buffaloes ahead 13-12, giving Colorado a lead that it would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.
The Buffs went ahead 25-21 at the end of the first quarter, thanks in part to Leonard’s 13 points and Smith’s four rebounds. Smith played like a bat out of hell in the paint, snagging 13 rebounds in the game, which led all players.
“She’s basically a six-foot guard getting rebounds, so that’s just strength, effort and hustle,” Payne said. “She did just what we want[ed] on the glass tonight.”
As the second quarter began, freshman forward Monica Burich got the Buffaloes started, nailing a three-pointer which put CU up 28-21. It began a 7-0 run that was supplemented by a layup from sophomore guard Alexis Robinson and a converted free throw by Burich.
The Buffs kept the pressure on Colorado State and headed to the locker room up 43-36. By halftime Leonard had amassed 19 points and as a unit, CU made just over 44 percent of its shots.
The Rams’ Ellen Nystrom made the first basket of the third quarter, making the score 43-38 in favor of Colorado. But from there, the Buffs began to slip away. Leonard drained a shot from downtown and Burich followed it with two free throw baskets, putting the Buffaloes up by 10 about halfway through the third quarter.
Two more free throws made by Burich put Colorado up 47-40, but the Rams went on a 5-0 run to close out the quarter, still trailing 57-45. Burich’s finished with 14 points and six rebounds.
The Buffs continued to be assertive in the final quarter. After Colorado State’s Callie Kaiser made a layup, lowering the Rams’ deficit to 10, the Colorado defense went into shutdown mode, allowing just two points to CSU in the final 6:39 of the contest.
In the game, the Buffaloes allowed just two offensive rebounds to CSU and two second chance points.
“Holding Colorado State to only two offensive rebounds is just effort,” Payne said after the win. “When they start[ed] as big as they did and we’re able to keep them to that number, it’s just a testament to these guys’ heart and desire to keep them off the glass.”
On the night, the Buffs shot just under 39 percent from the floor. The Rams surprisingly fared better, making about 43 percent of its shots, but it was irrelevant, as the Buffaloes took command of the game early and never looked back.
“Control the controllable is what we’ve been focusing on,” Leonard said. “We outplayed them and won.”
Colorado will attempt to begin the season 10-0 on Saturday, Dec. 17. Standing in their way is Mississippi Valley State, whom the Buffs will face in Itta Bena. Tipoff is at 2 p.m. MST.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.