What went right: CU turned up the pressure during the final 11 minutes and outscored Washington State 38-12. The Buffs converted 27 WSU turnovers into 34 points.
What went wrong: CU's offense struggled for much of the night, especially in the first three quarters, putting the Buffs in a 14-point hole.
Star of the game: Ariana Freeman. The sophomore came off the bench to score 14 points and pick up four rebounds and two steals.
What's next: CU will host No. 10 Washington on Sunday at Noon.
Ariana Freeman had her best game since before Christmas on Friday night for the Colorado women's basketball team.
Her individual performance had nothing to do with the smile on her face, however.
"This was the best game ever, but it wasn't because of the scoring," she said after tallying 14 points in a 70-58 win against Washington State at Coors Events Center. "It was because in the fourth quarter, I have never had that feeling of such unity and sisterhood and just fighting and family.
"It was just an absolute, just incredible feeling. We all felt together, glued together, and we were going to win this game no matter what."
It took nearly three full quarters for the Buffs (13-9, 3-8 Pac-12) to find the adhesive to get this victory.
CU was on the verge of getting blown out in the third quarter, down 46-32 after Ivana Kmetovska hit a layup for the Cougars (9-13, 4-7) with 1 minute, 25 seconds to play in that quarter.
Freeman and Kennedy Leonard then sparked a furious comeback.
Leonard finished with 25 points, Freeman had her first double-digit scoring night since Dec. 21 against Wyoming and Haley Smith posted a double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds) as the Buffs outscored the Cougars 38-12 in the final 11:07 of the game.
During one stretch of 4:41, the Buffs went on a 21-2 run.
"Really the biggest thing that I'm proud of and the biggest thing that I think everyone that came to watch us play tonight just saw a tremendous amount of heart," CU head coach JR Payne said. "We never gave up and continued to fight and then when things started going, we stayed with what was going and what was working."
What worked was that CU suddenly started hitting shots and, more importantly, cranked up its defense.
Washington State finished with 27 turnovers, 12 in the fourth quarter alone — the most ever by a CU opponent in one quarter.
"We finally got our hands up and in the passing lanes and like Ari said (to the team after the game), capitalizing on those plays was what mattered," Leonard said. "The steals are good, but if you don't convert them, they don't really matter."
CU finished with a whopping 34 points off of turnovers, with 19 of those coming in the fourth quarter alone.
Leonard, who had 16 points in the fourth, capped the win by hitting a pair of free throws with 26.1 seconds left and then stealing the ensuing inbounds pass and converting a layup.
"We went (to a small lineup) so that we could really fly around defensively and I just couldn't believe the way we were capitalizing," Payne said.
CU's defensive pressure stunned Washington State, which had turnovers on each of its first five fourth quarter possessions, and then had three more in the final 36 seconds.
"We knew if we were going to go out, we were at least going to go out fighting," Freeman said. "We were going to be aggressive, we were going to take the open shot and just play with confidence and it paid off."
This was the first time this season that CU won a game when trailing after three quarters (0-9 before Friday) and the 14-point deficit was the largest overcome for CU to get a win since Feb. 23, 2014, against Arizona. ... Leonard had four steals and now has 100 for her career. ... Smith's double-double was her first this season and third of her career. Her 13 rebounds tied a career high. ... Makenzie Ellis had a career-high nine rebounds. ... This season, Leonard has scored in double digits five times in the fourth quarter.
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.
Colorado 70, Washington State 58
WASHINGTON STATE (9-13, 4-7 Pac-12)
Washington 4-8 0-1 9, McClure 1-2 1-1 3, Kostourkova 1-4 0-0 2, Muzet 1-2 0-1 2, Pavlopoulou 6-13 0-0 13, Hailey 1-7 4-6 6, McKenzie 0-3 0-0 0, Kmetovska 8-8 0-0 16, Swedlund 2-7 3-3 7. Totals 24-54 8-12 58.
COLORADO (13-9, 3-8)
Ellis 1-11 3-4 5, Smith 3-9 3-4 10, Correal 4-5 0-0 8, Robinson 2-13 0-0 6, Leonard 8-20 8-12 25, Caylao-Do 0-1 0-0 0, Watts 0-0 0-0 0, Freeman 6-12 2-4 14, Thomas 0-1 0-0 0, Burich 0-2 0-0 0, Beard-Fails 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 24-74 18-26 70.
3-point goals - Washington State 2-14 (Pavlopoulou 1-4, Washington 1-1, Hailey 0-3, McKenzie 0-3, Swedlund 0-3), Colorado 4-23 (Robinson 2-6, Leonard 1-7, Smith 1-4, Ellis 0-5, Burich 0-1). Rebounds - Washington State 41 (Hailey 8), Colorado 42 (Smith 13). Assists - Washington State 12 (Kmetovska 4), Colorado 13 (Leonard 6). Steals - Washington State 7 (Kmetovska 2), Colorado 14 (Leonard 4). Turnovers - Washington State 27, Colorado 10. Total fouls - Washington State 20, Colorado 16. Fouled out - None. A - 1,907.