What went right: The Buffs were efficient on offense in the final three quarters (hitting 52.6 percent of their shots), out-rebounded the Lady Rebels 35-32 and played solid defense most of the night.
What went wrong: Turnovers, especially early, gave UNLV too many extra opportunities.
Star of the game: Alexis Robinson. She finished with 16 points and tied her career high with five steals. She gave the Buffs a huge lift offensively in the middle two quarters.
What's next: The Buffs will travel to South Dakota State for the second round of the WNIT, Sunday at 1 p.m. MT.
During the first quarter on Thursday night, the Colorado women's basketball team looked like a squad that hadn't played in two weeks.
During the final three quarters, the Buffaloes looked like a team that wants to keep playing for another two weeks.
Sophomores Kennedy Leonard and Alexis Robinson were stellar and the Buffs overcame a sluggish first quarter to knock off UNLV, 66-52, at Coors Events Center in the first round of the Women's NIT.
"Just to have an opportunity to play a game at home in front of our fans and families and an opportunity to win a game and now we get to play again — I'm thrilled and proud of our effort tonight," said CU head coach JR Payne, whose team had not played since March 2.
Making its sixth appearance in the WNIT, the Buffs (16-15) improved to 13-5 in this event, including 6-0 in the first round. The Buffs are also 11-3 all-time in WNIT home games, but now must go on the road.
CU will travel to South Dakota State (23-8) for the second round, Sunday at 1 p.m. MT. The Jackrabbits knocked off Northern Illinois, 94-84, on Thursday.
"Last year, we won seven games, so any postseason play I think is something that's special, and we're viewing it just as if we made the NCAA Tournament," Leonard said. "To experience the excitement around it — win or go home — I think that's really important for us going forward."
Leonard finished with 23 points and five assists. She also tied the CU single-season record for assists, with 177, matching Ann Troyan's total from the 1979-80 season.
Leonard's backcourt mate, Robinson, scored 16 points and tied her career high with five steals.
That duo, along with senior Haley Smith (11 points, nine rebounds) and others, helped CU overcome a sloppy first quarter. The Buffs trailed 10-8 after one frame after making just three of 15 shots and committing seven turnovers.
"We just haven't played in two weeks, so at tip you're like, 'Oh my gosh, it's a game again,'" Leonard said. "Getting back into the flow of it, getting that first quarter over with and being able to settle in and settle into our plays and our game helped a ton going into the rest of the three quarters."
During the final three quarters, CU hit 52.6 percent of its shots and outscored the Lady Rebels 58-42.
Robinson scored 14 of her points in the middle two quarters to spark the Buffs.
After UNLV pulled within four, 44-40, with 2 minutes, 52 seconds left in the third quarter, Robinson drained a 3-pointer and then got a steal and assist to Leonard to spark an 8-0 run.
"That was definitely the biggest run of the game," Robinson said. "Those are the runs you live for, those are the moments you live for in a basketball game."
Leonard scored 10 of her 23 points in the fourth to help the Buffs pull away and extend their season.
"I love the phrase survive and advance," Payne said. "It's the best time of year. It's March madness."
UNLV came in as the better rebounding team, but CU had a 35-32 edge on the glass. ... This was CU's first meeting with UNLV since a loss to the Lady Rebels in the first round of the 1989 NCAA Tournament. Several members of the 1989 team were in attendance Thursday to support the current Buffs. ... The Buffs improved to 1-5 against UNLV. ... CU is 1-1 in its history against South Dakota State, but haven't played the Jackrabbits since Dec. 13, 2006.
Colorado 66, UNLV 52
At Coors Events Cetner
Strawther 5-10 0-0 11, Powell 2-6 1-1 5, Johnson 6-12 0-0 14, Dy. Gonzalez 2-10 2-3 7, Da. Gonzalez 5-15 0-0 12, Wharton 0-0 1-2 1, Sheppard 0-1 0-0 0, Anderson 0-1 0-0 0, Bell 1-3 0-0 2, Wade 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-58 4-6 52..
Ellis 2-6 0-0 5, Smith 5-9 0-0 11, Correal 2-2 0-0 4, Robinson 5-15 4-4 16, Leonard 7-14 5-5 23, Caylao-Do 0-1 0-2 0, Watts 0-0 0-0 0, Freeman 1-4 1-2 3, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Burich 0-0 0-0 0, Beard-Fails 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 23-53 12-15 66..
3-point goals —UNLV 6-18 (Da. Gonzalez 2-6, Johnson 2-3, Dy. Gonzalez 1-5, Strawther 1-2, Powell 0-1, Bell 0-1), Colorado 8-23 (Leonard 4-8, Robinson 2-8, Ellis 1-4, Smith 1-2, Caylao-Do 0-1). Rebounds — UNLV 32 (Da. Gonzalez 5), Colorado 35 (Smith 9). Assists — UNLV 10 (Da. Gonzalez 4), Colorado 11 (Leonard 5). Steals — UNLV 4 (4 players with 1), Colorado 11 (Robinson 5). Turnovers - UNLV 18, Colorado 18. Total fouls - UNLV 19, Colorado 19. Fouled out— Johnson (UNLV), Ellis (Colorado). A — 815.