The Colorado Buffaloes hosted the UNLV Rebels at the Coors Events Center in the first round of the WNIT Tournament on Thursday evening. Thanks in part to the well-executed second and third quarters, the Buffs downed the Rebels, 66-52, in CU’s first postseason berth since 2014.
“I love the phrase ‘survive and advance,'” Buffs head coach JR Payne said. “That’s this time of year. To have an opportunity to play a game at home in front of our fans and families and now [to be] able to win and play again; I’m thrilled and proud of our effort tonight.”
After UNLV led, 10-8, heading into the second quarter, the Buffs outscored the Rebels, 19-11, in the 10 minutes before halftime, and 25-19 in the third quarter.
The Buffs were led in points by sophomore guard Kennedy Leonard, who dropped 23, 17 of which came in the second half. She shot a clean 50 percent from the floor and from long range, making 7-of-14 total shots and 4-of-8 three-pointers. Colorado senior forward Haley Smith led the team with nine points at halftime, going 4-of-7 from the floor.
A few minutes into the second half, the Rebels had clawed their way back into the game, although they still trailed, 29-28. At the 7:36 mark, sophomore forward Makenzie Ellis drained a three-pointer, putting CU up, 32-28.
A few minutes later, senior forward Zoe Beard-Fails nailed a couple of free throws that gave Colorado a 38-33 lead with about five minutes left in the third quarter. In the final five minutes before the fourth quarter, the Buffaloes outscored the Rebels, 14-7.
“I thought our execution got better and better as the game went on,” Payne said. “We got out and transitioned like we wanted to as the game went on and down the stretch we did some things that we wanted to do.”
Sophomore guard Robinson heated up big time in the second half. She had 16 points on the night and led the team with five steals. As a collective unit, the Buffs managed a 43 percent make rate, converting 23-of-53 shots.
As the fourth quarter began, Colorado led, 52-40. UNLV drew first blood, scoring the quarter’s first four points. The Buffaloes and Rebels soon entered a 2:30 scoreless stalemate as precious seconds ticked off the clock. This forced the away team into a do-or-die situation with CU maintaining a 54-44 lead with 6:18 left to play.
With just over five minutes left, Leonard nailed a shot from downtown and drained another 40 seconds later, giving Colorado its biggest lead of the night. With the Buffs up 61-49, another scoreless drought, this time nearly three minutes long, all but sealed the win for CU.
With less than 30 seconds left in the game, Robinson snagged a rebound, was fouled, and went to the line, making both of her free throws. These were the game’s final points.
Smith finished the game with 11 points and led the team with nine rebounds.
“Last year we won seven games,” Leonard said. “Any postseason play is special, and we’re viewing it just as if we had made the NCAA Tournament.”
Colorado will now travel to Brookings, South Dakota, to take on the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State University this Sunday, March 19. The game will tipoff at 1 p.m. (MST)
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.