• Brian Howell Buffzone.com

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado head coach Linda Lappe talks to her team during Saturday's loss to Washington.



Linda Lappe came away from Saturday feeling pretty good about her team.

Sure, the Colorado women’s basketball team came up short against Washington, 76-74, in the Pac-12 opener, but a valiant effort from the Buffaloes prevented this one from getting out of hand.

“The first half was kind of the old team,” Lappe said. “I’d like to think the second half is our new team, the team I’ve been seeing almost every day in practice.

“Now we’ve got to be able to take this game and move forward and use it and make sure that first half team doesn’t come back again. It’s something we should expect from here on out.”

It would be nice if it worked out that way, and maybe it will.

Yet, 12 games into this season, Lappe’s Buffs appear to be headed for a long season.

It was just a year ago when the CU men’s basketball team sputtered through its nonconference schedule, while maintaining that the Pac-12 slate would be a new beginning. And, it was for a bit.

Tad Boyle’s team played an inspired opening weekend of Pac-12 play a year ago, beating UCLA and USC. Then, the Buffs lost four in a row en route to a 16-18 season.

The football team, as all CU fans know, has mastered the art of playing close games and losing them. The football Buffs have maintained for two years now that the close loses are a sign that they are right there and can play with anyone.

They just haven’t figured out how to beat anyone of note.

Right now, Lappe’s squad appears to be on the same track.

The Buffs closed nonconference play with a terrible second half at Wyoming. After a holiday break, they put together their finest week of practice. Then, they played a terrible first half against Washington.

To CU’s credit, its third quarter on Saturday was by far its best quarter of basketball of the season. But, much like the men’s basketball team a year ago and the football team the past few years, Lappe’s Buffs couldn’t finish.

During the last 8 minutes, 30 seconds on Saturday, the Buffs had almost as many turnovers (six) as points (seven).

Still, the Buffs came away from a close loss feeling encouraged.

“If we can play with Washington and lose on a last second shot, we can play with anybody in the country,” freshman Kennedy Leonard said.

Maybe. But, losing at home to a good, but unranked Washington squad doesn’t signal the Buffs’ ability to make a national title run. Or a Pac-12 title run, for that matter.

What it signals is that this team might be entertaining to watch at times. It might find a way to win a few games. But, it hasn’t figured out the right formula yet.

Maybe Saturday’s second half will be the flip of the switch that Lappe’s been wanting.

More than likely, though, it was just a nice half of basketball in a season that is shaping up to be a challenge for a young team trying to find its way.

“For this team, this was a huge step for us and one we have to take and continue to move forward,” Lappe said. “I’m disappointed with the outcome, but it’s a process.”

This season, the Buffs have talked about how great it is they were able to face tough competition in the non-conference portion of the season. They left Wyoming feeling like it was the best they’ve played in Laramie in years. They walked off their home court Saturday pleased they rallied from a big deficit to give themselves a chance at the end.

It’s all part of the process, but generally the process takes longer than anyone wants.

For now, however, moral victories will have to do.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.