The 0-10 California Golden Bears wandered into the CU Events Center on Friday to a frustrated herd of Colorado Buffaloes. With COVID-19 implications and injuries wreaking havoc in the Pac-12, Cal suited up just eight players and were appropriately dismissed, 75-59.
It was all Colorado early in the first quarter as the Buffs stormed out to an 8-0 lead. CU’s defense began the game with a full court press that helped elicit a few of Cal’s six turnovers in the first quarter.
Freshman guard Frida Formann limped into the contest, mustering through a 1-for-20 drought from three-point range in her previous three games. But on Friday, the Denmark native broke her cold spell. She shot 5-of-6 from deep and notched a career-high and team-leading 19 points.
“I knew I would get my shot back,” Formann said. “It was just a matter of time and thankfully my teammates and coaches believed in me too. They still let me shoot. It was really nice to see those shots go in.”
Perhaps the only weak spot for the Buffs was its interior defense. Cal freshman forward Ugonne (Michelle) Onyiah outmuscled the Buffs to score 13 points.
Working with a full court press, Colorado’s defense struggled to defend the paint and allowed six first quarter points down low. But CU adjusted nicely in the second quarter and held the Bears to just one two-point basket and seven points total. Cal ended the half making just one of its last 11 field goals to trail CU, 42-25.
“I thought the press was good early for the first few minutes and then I thought poor offensive decisions led to their transition points,” head coach JR Payne said. “I thought we started doing some uncharacteristic things in the half court: pull up 3’s and no look bounce passes to the post.”
With just eight available Cal players and three of them recording over 30 minutes, senior forward Mya Hollingshed said it was important for CU to play at a fast pace.
“It was important for us to try and run them out of the gym because they are shorthanded,” Hollingshed said. “We wanted to get that cool mountain air into their lungs and tire them out with the elevation. That was our big advantage throughout the whole game.”
Entering the second half, Colorado broke open the game with a 16-3 run. Formann nailed two three-pointers within the first three minutes and Hollingshed picked up six points in the quarter. Hollingshed finished with 18 points and was just one rebound away from her sixth double-double of the season.
“Coach told me I only needed one more (rebound) and I was trying to get it but (junior guard) Tay (Jones) went for it and I went for the rebound and we just looked at each other and I said, ‘Come on bro, I needed that one,'” Hollingshed joked. “But it’s okay.”
With Colorado leading by 19 entering the fourth quarter, Payne began to empty her bench and give her less utilized players a few minutes of valuable Pac-12 action. Sophomore guard/forward Raanee Smith made her season debut and freshman guard Allysa Lafontaine appeared in just her fourth game. CU’s 27 points off the bench helped solidify its lead late in the game.
“The thing that I liked the most about this game was…we got to play everybody meaningful minutes,” Payne said. “A lot of people got to play different positions. That’s fantastic as a coach.”
Two of CU’s starters, sophomore guard Jaylyn Sherrod and junior guard Aubrey Knight, combined for just 23 minutes and had four combined points. Payne said that Sherrod was playing “banged up” and has been limited in practice.
On Sunday, Colorado will face its toughest challenge of the season against the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal. The Buffs lost two close games against Stanford last year including an overtime loss on the road.
“This game is very personal to us because we know the last two times we should have won,” Hollingshed said. “We’re going to come out and play really hard and do the things that we do well.”
Colorado and Stanford tip-off at noon on Sunday at the CU Events Center.