The No. 6 Arizona Wildcats delivered a lethal dose of revenge to the Colorado Buffaloes Friday evening at the CU Events Center. Ten months after upsetting then-No. 11 Arizona, the Buffs faltered down the stretch and fell to the Wildcats, 62-59.
Head coach JR Payne’s Buffs have played in just one game this season decided by 10 points or less and their inexperience showed late. With the importance of free throws amplified in the fourth quarter, CU was just 3-of-12 at the stripe in the final 10 minutes.
“We had our chances and we didn’t go out and win that ballgame,” Payne said. “We competed and we battled but it was right there for the taking and we didn’t take it. Again, we’re young and I’m glad we were in this game but I’m not one for moral victories really when I think we should have won the ballgame.”
Early on, the Buffs were hitting nearly everything. Sophomore guard Jaylyn Sherrod had four points from the line in the first quarter and two other Buffs had four points as well. CU led 18-15 and shot 50% from the field heading into the second quarter. Now up 25-17, a brutal shooting slump derailed the Buffs’ hot start. Colorado was held scoreless for over six minutes and missed eight shots before Sherrod hit a buzzer-beater jump shot to end the half.
To match its offensive effort, CU’s defense was just as strong to begin the game. Wildcats’ senior guard Aari McDonald entered the game as the NCAA’s active leader in career points (1,846) and the Buffs held her to just 1-of-7 shooting in the first half. CU held Arizona to 13% from the field in the second quarter amidst its own scoring drought. Payne said that CU switched well throughout the game and was able to guard penetration with the exception of Shaina Pellington who had seven points.
With the help of sophomore guard Zuzanna Kulinska’s six third quarter points, the Buffs burst out to a 51-42 lead.
“Zuzanna had a great game,” Payne said. “I was really proud of her aggressiveness and she just is one that just comes to work every day and puts in the work and keeps it pretty simple.”
Arizona’s full-court press caused fits for the Buffs en route to a 12-1 run early in the fourth quarter. CU shot 0-for-10 to open the final quarter but kept the game close entering the final minute. Although McDonald was 0-for-4 from the field in the fourth quarter, she was 8-for-8 shooting free throws in the clutch.
“She’s one of the best players in America,” Payne said. “She’s been around a very long time played a lot of basketball and she’s really really good for a reason… She stepped up and knocked them (free throws) down when she needed to.”
Sherrod was responsible for guarding the All-American guard who scored 24 points on the night.
“I love Jaylyn because she is not one to shy away from any sort of challenge,” Payne said. “If you asked her who wants to guard McDonald, she would be the first one to raise her hand.”
Near the end of the fourth quarter, Sherrod hit the floor hard on a layup attempt. After a few moments on the ground, she rose but was visibly shaken up on the play. Sherrod and senior forward Mya Hollingshed missed a combined nine free throws in the final quarter, ultimately ending in a 62-59 loss.
Freshman guard Frida Formann, Hollingshed and Sherrod all scored 11 points on the night and Kulinska finished with eight. Formann tallied her fifth double-digit scoring game at CU but the loss hurt all the same.
“I woke up with the feeling we should beat this team,” Formann said. “I had no doubt. It’s details and of course, it stings a lot for me, but I think even more for our older players who have had these kinds of games before where they didn’t pull off the win. I know that we will get better from this.”
Well after the game was over, Sherrod returned to the court and began practicing free throws. Her emotions were high following the loss but she hit nearly every shot on the empty court. Payne soon joined her for an embrace.
“There are certain games that stick with you forever,” Payne said. “I don’t know if this is one of them but I can remember games from 10 to 15 years ago that still hurt to this day.”
Colorado fell to 3-4 on the season and 1-3 in Pac-12 play. Fortunately for CU, they won’t have much time to think about this one. They’ll host the Arizona State Sun Devils on Sunday at 2 p.m. MST.
Contact CU Independent Visuals/Operations Manager Nigel Amstock at firstname.lastname@example.org