Beating two in-state teams was a good way to start a new era for the Colorado women's basketball team, but beating a ranked opponent gives the Buffaloes another level of confidence.
Winning convincingly is even better.
The Buffs dominated No. 15 Kentucky with a strong defensive effort to beat the Wildcats, 79-69, Saturday night at Coors Events Center.
It was a signature win for the Buffs, whose last win over a ranked opponent was 68-65 over No. 8 Oregon State in the 2015 Pac-12 Tournament.
"We all know it's a ranked team, it's a big win in that way, but it's just another game," said Haley Smith, who had 18 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
It was a complete victory, even though CU shot just 42.3 percent from the field and attempted just eight free throws, hitting six.
"We didn't shoot the ball particularly well but I hope we're beginning to see that effort, toughness and desire is enough," head coach JR Payne said. "You don't have to be 6-3, jump out of the gym, dunk the ball to be successful."
Saturday's formula was lockdown defense and some personal motivation for Alexis Robinson. The sophomore is from Kentucky, and beating the biggest school in her home state was one of the highlights of her young career.
Especially after the Wildcats routed CU, 86-61, in Lexington last season.
Robinson did her part to get even, scoring a game-high 19 points to go with four assists.
"This is a really big game for me and my excitement level is out the roof," she said.
She had plenty of help. Kennedy Leonard had 14 points and 12 assists and Zoe Correal had 10 points and seven rebounds.
The Buffs (3-0) forced 17 Kentucky turnovers while committing only six.
"We talk about active hands all the time," Payne said. "In our zone we want to have high pressure. Our hands are so important and that's why we keep harping on it."
The active hands helped CU take control of the game. The Buffs led 37-35 at halftime but expanded the advantage right away. Smith and Robinson hit 3-pointers to push the lead to 49-43. Robinson then grabbed a Makayla Epps miss, got it to Leonard, who hit a layup to put CU ahead by eight and force Kentucky to call a timeout.
The Wildcats got within four but CU's defense got stingy. They had two steals and forced five turnovers while converting on the other end.
Monica Burich had one of the steals and it led to an offensive rebound and bucket by Smith that built a 60-50 lead.
Leonard then stole an outlet pass and hit a jumper to give the Buffs a 62-50 lead late in the third quarter.
Leonard was 6-for-20 from the field but kept fed her teammates all night as the Buffs closed out the win.
"Who cares if I didn't shoot well, we won," she said.
Colorado 79, Kentucky 69
Epps 4-8, 6-9 14, Murray 6-10 1-2 14, Morris 5-11 1-2 14, Akhator 5-9 2-6 13, Rice 3-8 0-0 6, Cann 2-6 0-0 5, Roper 1-3 2-2 4, Hardin 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 26-57 12-21 69..
Robinson 8-16 1-1 19, Smith 7-13 0-0 18, Leonard 6-20 1-2 14, Correal 4-7 2-2 10, Beard-Fails 4-6 0-0 8, Freeman 2-6 1-1 5, Burich 2-5 0-0 4, Thomas 0-2 1- 1, Ellis 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 33-78 6-8 79..
3-point field goals — Kentucky (5) : Morris 3, Murray, Cann; Colorado (7): Smith 4, Robinson 2, Leonard. Total fouls — Kentucky 12, Colorado 19. Fouled out — None. Technical fouls — None.