What went right: CU played well down the stretch and pulled away for a victory in a hard-fought game. They also rebounded fairly well and hit free throws.
What went wrong: The Buffs' defense wasn't sharp throughout the night, allowing UNC to stay in the game from start to finish.
Star of the game: Quinessa Caylao-Do. The junior had a career-high 23 points and added a pair of assists.
What's next: CU will host another in-state rival, Colorado State, on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. at Coors Events Center.
With a roster that features several young players, the Colorado women's basketball team will have nights when it has to lean on its veterans.
Tuesday was one of those nights.
In the season opener, senior Kennedy Leonard and junior Quinessa Caylao-Do were exceptional, especially in the fourth quarter, to help the Buffaloes pull away for a 77-69 win against Northern Colorado at CU Events Center.
Leonard scored 30 points — one shy of her career high — and Caylao-Do poured in a career-high 23, as the Buffs got the season off to a solid start.
"We have some veterans on this team that have played tons and tons of minutes and have been in a lot of games and know how to control things when they need to, so down the stretch we needed that experience and they gave us exactly what we wanted," CU head coach JR Payne said.
Leonard and Caylao-Do combined for 20 points in the fourth quarter, 17 of those in the final 5 minutes, 13 seconds after UNC had taken a one-point lead.
"I just think we didn't want to lose," said Leonard, who went 15-for-18 at the free throw line and added six steals. "I think we were settled in and we locked in and we got stops when we needed to get stops and we scored when we needed to score and we did what we needed to do to win."
Caylao-Do had the difficult task of trying to guard UNC senior Savannah Smith, and that wasn't easy. Smith led the Bears in scoring a year ago in taking them to the NCAA Tournament. On Tuesday, she had 32 points, including draining 8-of-12 from 3-point range.
"She's a great player," Caylao-Do said of the former Fossil Ridge High School star. "She moves off the ball and she's just always moving. She's a really tough player to guard. She's just really bouncy, so it was just hard to tell when she was going to shoot or not."
Caylao-Do countered with the first 20-point game of her career. She made her first seven shots and finished 7-for-9, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range.
"It was a great feeling because I feel like in the offseason I worked out a lot," she said, "so just working on my shot and being able to hit the shots during the game was just really good for me mentally."
The game was tight throughout, with neither team ever leading by more than nine.
"That was a great game against a great team that has one of the best scorers maybe in the country, but certainly in the western United States," Payne said. "We knew they were going to be good, we knew they'd be aggressive, we knew they were experienced and that it would be a battle.
"We knew that and we prepared for that. I'm just really proud of our team the way we competed down the stretch."
Leonard's 15 made free throws tied a CU record. It's been done three times in CU history — twice by Leonard. ... Tuesday marked the head coaching debut of UNC's Jenny (Roulier) Hugh, who starred at CU from 1998-02. ... Peanut Tuitele came off the bench to score eight points and pull down a team-high nine rebounds for the Buffs. ... CU leads the all-time series 13-6 and has won 10 in a row against the Bears. ... Leonard became the 14th player in CU history to top the 1,400-point mark for her career (1,413).
Colorado 77, Northern Colorado 69,
At CU Events Center
Northern Colorado (0-1)
Meyer 1-5 0-2 2, Hintz 1-1 0-0 2, Leger-Walker 6-10 0-0 12, Smith 10-19 4-4 32, Chapman 1-5 0-2 2, Fernander 5-10 10-0 10, Kain 0-1 0-0 0, Isenbart 3-6 2-2 9. Totals 27-57 6-10 69..
Jank 0-4 0-0 0, Caylao-Do 7-9 6-10 23, Robinson 2-11 1-3 5, Leonard 6-13 15-18 30, Hollingshed 2-5 0-0 4, Clarke 0-1 0-0 0, Diop 0-1 0-0 0, Finau 0-0 0-0 0, Knight 1-1 5-6 7, Tuitele 2-5 4-4 8. Totals 20-50 31-41 77..
Score by quarters:Northern Colorado 14 20 13 22 — 69
Colorado 16 18 18 25 — 77
3-point goals — UNC 9-21 (Smith 8-12, Isenbart 1-4, Leger-Walker 0-2, Chapman 0-2, Meyer 0-1), Colorado 6-19 (Caylao-Do 3-4, Leonard 3-6, Robinson 0-4, Jank 0-2, Hollingshed 0-2, Clarke 0-1). Rebounds - UNC 30 (Smith 6), Colorado 36 (Tuitele 9). Assists — UNC 5 (Leger-Walker 3), Colorado 10 (Leonard 4). Steals — UNC 9 (Smith 4), Colorado 9 (Leonard 6). Turnovers — UNC 20, Colorado 16. Total fouls — UNC 25, Colorado 12. Fouled out — Leger-Walker, Chapman. A — 1,384.