What went right: CU's defense was dominant when it matter most, holding UMass without a field goal for a 9:39 span in the first half.
What went wrong: Not much. The Buffs shot well, played solid defense, and outrebounded UMass 41-33.
Star of the game: Jamee Swan. The senior forward went 7-for-8 from the floor and 9-for-11 at the free throw line, finishing with 23 points.
What's next?: The Buffs host Florida on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the championship game of the Omni Classic.
Pretty much from the moment last season ended, Colorado women's basketball coach Linda Lappe has vowed to return the Buffaloes to the defense-first approach that once made CU an annual conference title contender.
With that backdrop, Friday night's thorough 90-63 victory against UMass at the Coors Events Center was a thing of beauty. The Buffs tightened the clamps defensively, holding the Minutewomen without a field goal for nearly half of the entire first half while advancing to the championship game of the 29th annual Omni Classic.
CU (3-1) will play Florida at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night in the title game after the Gators topped Ball State 85-79 Friday afternoon in the tournament opener. Ball State and UMass will collide in the third-place game on Saturday at 5 p.m.
"Right now (defense) is inconsistent, we just have to make it more consistent," Lappe said. "We had active hands. We could've moved our feet better and we had far too many fouls. But yeah, the mentality was there, and the grit and determination."
CU shot a more than solid 61.3 percent from the floor during the first half and received a monster game from senior forward Jamee Swan, yet it was the team defense that set the tone.
During the Buffaloes' decisive, game-breaking run midway through the first half, CU held UMass without a field goal for a span of 9 minutes, 39 seconds. Between those baskets, the Buffs outscored UMass 22-9 to put the visitors in a hole they couldn't recover from.
"I think we're headed in the right direction, but I think we still have a lot of work to do," Swan said. "One of our goals tonight was to hold them under a certain amount of points and we didn't complete that goal. We did a solid job of playing together as a team and actually playing Colorado team defense. It's only the beginning of the season but I have a feeling we're going to get there."
While the defense was making it a miserable night for UMass, Swan and freshman guard Alexis Robinson provided more than enough offense for the Buffaloes.
A career .476 shooter entering the season who had struggled to a .395 mark through the first three games, Swan made up for lost time by turning in a perfect shooting performance. The senior made 7-of-8 shots from the floor — Swan's only miss was on a contested heave in the paint in the waning seconds — and collected eight rebounds before finishing with 23 points. Swan also went 9-for-11 from the free throw line.
Robinson turned in the best game of her quite young CU career, going 6-for-7 in the first half and finishing with 21 points. Haley Smith chipped in with 15 points and eight rebounds for the Buffs.
"This year especially, we have so many people who can score from different places on the floor," Smith said. "It kind of takes a little pressure off a lot of people. We had really nice flow with our offense tonight. I think we have a lot of versatile players who can score all over the floor."
While the cut Zoe Beard-Fails received at Kentucky last week that required two stitches is healing, the junior forward also received a concussion on the play and had not passed the concussion protocol in time to be in the lineup Friday. Beard-Fails also will not play in the tournament finale Saturday against Florida.
Colorado 90, UMass 63
At Coors Events Center
Mulligan 1-4 4-4 6, Stallworth 5-17 2-2 14, Dillard 2-4 4-7 8, Timbilla 4-12 3-4 11, Lawrence 4-8 5-7 13, Dillon 0-1 0-2 0, Stiff 0-2 1-2 1, George 0-0 0-0 0, McDerment 1-4 0-0 2, Hill 1-5 6-8 8. Totals 18-57 25-36 63.
Leonard 2-7 1-1 5, Correal 1-5 3-4 5, Smith 7-13 1-1 15, Huggins 3-7 0-0 8, Swan 7-8 9-11 23, Ellis 0-2 4-4 4, Robinson 8-10 4-4 21, Thomas 3-7 0-0 9. Totals 31-59 22-25 90.
Halftime — CU 47-29. 3-point goals — UMass 2-8 (Stallworth 2-5, McDerment 0-2, Dillard 0-1); CU 6-16 (Thomas 3-5, Huggins 2-5, Robinson 1-1, Leonard 0-3, Smith 0-2). Fouled out — Ellis. Rebounds — UMass 33 (Mulligan 13); CU 41 (Correal 10). Assists — UMass 6 (six players with one); CU 20 (Leonard 6). Total fouls — UMass 19, CU 25. A — 1,611.