Fast break box
What went right: The Buffs had one of their best shooting nights of the season (49.2 percent) and forced 26 turnovers, converting those into 24 points.
What went wrong: CU was dominated in rebounding, 38-21, and Washington State out-scored the Buffs 20-4 in second-chance points. The Buffs also went cold at inopportune times, including an 0-for-9 stretch midway through the fourth quarter.
Star of the game: Ariana Freeman. The sophomore came off the bench to score 16 points and provide some much-needed scoring punch. It was her highest point total since Nov. 30 vs. Southeastern Louisiana.
What's next: The Buffs now wait until March 13 to find out if they receive a invitation to the Women's NIT.
SEATTLE — Down one point with 7.6 seconds to play on Thursday night, the Colorado women's basketball team got the play it wanted.
The Buffaloes didn't get the desired result, however.
Ariana Freeman's short jumper hit the back of the iron and Washington State corralled the ensuing rebound to run out the clock and defeat the Buffs 79-78 in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament at KeyArena.
The 10th-seeded Buffs (15-15) lost in the first round for the second consecutive season, while seventh-seeded Washington State (12-18) moves on to face No. 2 Stanford in Friday's quarterfinals.
"Our kids played their hearts out," head coach JR Payne said. "And that's who we are.
CU certainly had its chances, especially late.
After clawing back from a 10-point second-half deficit, the Buffs were down by just one after Kennedy Leonard hit a layup with 8.9 seconds to play.
During the play, Leonard also drew a foul, but her mid-air collision with the Cougars' Nike McClure left her on the ground for a couple of minutes. Because the trainer came out to check on her, Leonard had to check out of the game for a play.
That forced CU to go with somebody else to shoot the free throw to complete the three-point play, and Payne picked freshman Monica Burich, who came in cold off the bench. Burich was an 83.3 percent free throw shooter on the season, but had attempted only two free throws - missing both - since Jan. 15.
With a chance to tie the game, Burich's shot was off the mark, but on the rebound, the Buffs won possession. That gave them a chance to set up for a shot under the basket.
Off the inbounds pass, Freeman, who finished with 16 points, got tangled up with a pair of Cougars, but managed to get up a shot that was just off the mark.
"We got exactly what we wanted," Payne said. "We got our best finisher near the basket with a ball and an opportunity to score the ball. We've said all year long, Ariana makes the toughest shots of any player we've ever coached. She doesn't always make the easy ones, but she makes the tough ones, and that was a tough one."
The loss was a heart-breaker for the Buffs, who came out sizzling, coughed up a 14-point lead and lost for the second time in six days against the Cougars.
CU hit 49.2 percent of its shots (31 of 63) - its second-best percentage in the last 23 games - and forced 26 turnovers, but ultimately could not overcome its inability to rebound. Washington State dominated the glass, 39-21, and outscored the Buffs 20-4 in second-chance points.
In addition to the rebounding advantage, Washington State bottled up Leonard, who has been CU's leading scorer this season, with 17.1 points per game. On Thursday, Leonard had eight points on 3-for-13 shooting, but did add six steals, six assists and two bone-rattling collisions with McClure.
With Leonard struggling, the Buffs relied on Haley Smith (21 points), Alexis Robinson (17 points) and Freeman to provide the scoring punch.
That trio, along with freshman Quinessa Caylao-Do helped the Buffs to a fast start. After a layup by Caylao-Do with 3:07 to play in the first quarter, the Buffs led 23-9.
"We were really looking to attack from the corner and have shooters spot up," said Smith, who went 4-for-4 from 3-point range. "I think we executed that really well, and we were able to attack the way we wanted to."
Over the next 10 minutes, 13 seconds however, Washington State went on a 21-2 run to take a 30-25 lead.
The Cougars, paced by a career-high 23 points from Alexys Swedlund, stretched its lead to 10 in the third quarter before the Buffs rallied late.
CU's season may not be over, however. With a .500 record, the Buffs are eligible for postseason play, have solid RPI and computer ratings and could be an attractive team to the Women's NIT committee. The WNIT bracket will be announced on March 13 and the Buffs could be in the 64-team field.
"I'm certainly hoping so," Smith said.
While Smith had a big night scoring, she uncharacteristically had just one rebound. CU's leading rebounder, Smith had at least six boards in 10 of the previous 11 games. ... The Buffs are now 5-6 all-time in the Pac-12 Tournament and 3-2 in the first round. ... Since upsetting top-seeded Oregon State in the 2015 quarterfinals, the Buffs are 0-3 in this tournament. ... In three games against Washington State this season, the Buffs forced a stunning 80 turnovers, including 27 in each of the regular season meetings.