It was a slow start that doomed the Colorado women's lacrosse team in its final nonconference match of the season last week at the University of Denver.
Senior Darby Kiernan made sure it wasn't a repeat performance for the Buffaloes on Friday.
Facing No. 16 USC in the first game of the second half of the Pac-12 Conference schedule, the 18th-ranked Buffs started strong and never trailed, recording an elusive win against the Trojans with a 10-7 decision in cold, snowy conditions at Kittredge Field.
The win snapped a five-game losing streak for CU against USC that dated back to the teams' first meeting in 2014. Only two CU players — fifth-year seniors Sophia Gambitsky and Tori Link — were part of the Buffs' program for its previous win against the Trojans four years ago.
CU's run of futility against USC included an overtime loss on the road three weeks ago.
"I thought we came out strong — defensively sticking to the game plan and offensively just attacking from the beginning. That's what we talked about all week," CU head coach Ann Elliott said. "I thought they did a good job in that first half. USC is obviously a great team and a team we've struggled with in the past. At the same time, it's a huge conference game for us as we're looking to continue to compete and finish strong down the stretch in the second half. It's a huge game for us."
Kiernan is CU's leading scorer, but she had tallied only five goals in the previous three games after recording four in the loss at USC on March 16. That changed in a hurry Friday, with Kiernan scoring three goals in a one minute span to give the Buffs a 4-0 edge less than eight minutes into the contest.
The Buffs led 7-1 at halftime before the Trojans mounted a rally, scoring the first four goals of the second half to cut CU's advantage to 7-5. Kiernan, though, scored two more goals in a run of three Buffs goals in a span of 2:11 to keep the visitors from sunny California at bay.
Kiernan paced CU's attack with five goals and three assists, matching a career-best eight points she recorded earlier this season against Stanford. Carly Cox added a goal and two assists for the Buffs. Goalie Julia Lisella posted seven saves.
"We were just really excited for today and we knew we had to go into this game with confidence and come out strong," Kiernan said. "I think we really did that today. It feels really good to win."
The victory improved CU to 8-4 overall and 5-1 within the Pac-12, pulling the Buffs into a virtual tie with Stanford (6-1) atop the league standings. It also created space from the league's pack, with USC and Oregon both owning three losses behind the front-running Buffs and Stanford.
CU hosts last-place Arizona State on Sunday at Prentup Field (noon, Pac-12 Network) before traveling to Stanford for what likely will be a first-place showdown on April 13.
"Conference games are so important. We want to put ourselves in the best position come the conference tournament," Elliott said. "So we've got to go one game at a time. We did our job today. We've got to get a lot better as we head into Sunday and we'll go from there."
No. 18 Colorado 10, No. 16 USC 7
At Kittredge FieldUSC (7-6, 5-3) 1 6 — 7
Goals — USC: Miller 4, Huff 2, Donovan; Colorado: Kiernan 5, Cox, Castillo, Grozier, Nemirov, Kingdom.
Assists — USC: Klein; Colorado: Kiernan 3, Cox 2, Castillo.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — USC: Johns (60-10-9); Colorado: Lisella (60-7-7).