What went right: The Buffs played aggressive defense most of the night, forcing turnovers and turning many of them into points. They also rebounded well and got a great scoring night from point guard Kennedy Leonard.
What went wrong: CU got off to a slow start, falling behind 6-0. The Buffs didn't shoot particularly well throughout the night, either, but made up for it with defense and rebounding.
Star of the game: Leonard. She had a career-high 31 points, tied a school record with seven 3-pointers and added seven assists and five rebounds.
What's next: The Buffs are off until visiting Mississippi Valley State on Dec. 17.
For the past week or so, Kennedy Leonard has been dealing with a painful cut on the tip of her shooting finger.
Given that, this was hardly the performance she expected out of herself.
"I'm a little shocked," she said on Thursday night after pouring in a career-high 31 points to lead the No. 18 Colorado women's basketball team a 74-56 win against rival Colorado State at Coors Events Center.
CU (9-0) is off to its best start since winning its first nine in the 2013-14 season. It's just the sixth 9-0 start in program history, and the Buffs have the best record in the Pac-12 Conference.
Leonard tied a CU record with seven 3-pointers and became the first Buff to score more than 30 points in nearly six years.
"Somehow they were going in," said Leonard, who made nine of 17 shots overall and seen of 11 from 3-point range. "I don't know how — God's grace, I guess — because it's been an interesting week with shooting. Once you hit that first one, you're good to go.
"I've been struggling a little bit to shoot and getting really frustrated, too, because the shots haven't been going in. So, when they went in tonight, it was kind of a sigh of relief."
The win, in general, was a sigh of relief.
On Dec. 2, 2015, Leonard and the Buffs thought they had a win against the Rams (5-4) in Fort Collins after Leonard hit a layup with 3.6 seconds to play. CSU's Ellen Nystrom hit a jumper with 1.7 seconds left for the win, however. It was a heart-breaking loss in a season that went sour for the Buffs.
"Every possession (on Thursday), I was thinking, 'Don't even let them get close to three points because this girl will hit a fade-away and we don't need that again,'" Leonard said. "We prepared a ton for this team and we were ready."
There was no last-minute drama this time, as the Buffs closed the game on a 10-2 run over the final 5 minutes, 10 seconds.
The Buffs didn't have a great night shooting (38.8 percent), but won this game on the strength of its rebounding and defense.
CU out-rebounded the Rams 44-36, getting 12 offensive boards that it turned into 11 second-chance points. Haley Smith had a career-high 13 rebounds, four of those on the offensive glass.
The Buffs also had 11 steals and scored 15 points off of CSU's 15 turnovers. Makenzie Ellis led the way with four steals.
"As we went into second half, third quarter, fourth quarter, we kept saying, rebounding and loose balls is what's going to win this game for us," Buffs head coach JR Payne said. "Our effort was really good there."
CSU jumped to a 6-0 lead to start the game. The Rams also had mini-runs of 9-2 and 6-0 to close the gap at times. After each CSU run, the Buffs responded by extending the lead.
"I didn't how we were going to respond in a situation where we may have been down or struggling, and I loved the way we responded," Payne said. "We stuck together, we competed, we did the little things when it mattered most. I'm really proud of our team tonight."
Monica Burich had 14 points and six rebounds off the bench for the Buffs, who now have a nine-day break for finals.
Leonard added seven assists and five rebounds. ... Leonard became the eighth player in CU history to hit seven 3s in a game, and the first to do it since Bianca Smith on Jan. 31, 2009. ... Callie Kaiser led CSU with 17 points, while Elin Gustavsson had 12 and Nystrom 10. ... CU leads the series with Rams, 36-12, including 24-2 in Boulder. The Buffs have won six of the last seven meetings. CSU's last win in Boulder came on Dec. 6, 2000.
Kaiser 7-8 2-4 17, Gustavsson 4-11 4-5 12, Nystrom 5-9 0-0 10, Tvrdy 4-8 0-0 8, Hamm 2-3 2-4 7, Austgulen 1-6 0-0 2, Kantzy 0-1 0-0 0, Mirkovic 0-4 0-0 0, Tryggedsson 0-4 0-0 0, Totals 23-54 8-13 56.Colorado (9-0)
Leonard 9-17 6-11 31, Burich 4-10 5-6 14, Robinson 4-13 0-1 9, Smith 4-13 0-0 8, Ellis 2-5 0-0 5, Freeman 2-5 1-2 5, Correal 1-2 0-0 2, Beard-Fails 0-1 0-0 0, Thomas 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 26-67 12-20 74.Colorado St. 21 15 9 11 — 56
3-Point Goals — Colorado St. 2-14 (Hamm 1-2, Kaiser 1-2, Austgulen 0-3, Kantzy 0-1, Mirkovic 0-2, Nystrom 0-1, Tryggedsson 0-1, Tvrdy 0-2), Colorado 10-26 (Leonard 7-11, Burich 1-2, Ellis 1-2, Robinson 1-7, Smith 0-4). Assists — Colorado St. 9 (Nystrom 5), Colorado 16 (Leonard 7). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Colorado St. 36 (Austgulen 8), Colorado 44 (Smith 13). Total Fouls — Colorado St. 15, Colorado 13. A — 1,723.