In the first half, the Colorado women’s basketball team did everything it needed to get an upset of No. 24 California.
The second half was a completely different story.
Overwhelmed during the first six minutes of the second half, the Buffs were knocked off by Cal, 65-53, on Friday night at Coors Events Center.
“I just told the team I don’t have anything magical that’s going to make anyone feel any better,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “The truth of the matter is, in this conference you have to play for 40 minutes. You can have the best half of your lives … and if you don’t come out ready to go in the second half, it can all go away.”
It didn’t take long for CU’s hard work from the first half to go away.
The Buffs (11-5, 1-4 Pac-12) were exceptional before the break, especially in the paint, where Cal (14-3, 2-3) has a decided advantage.
In the first half, CU shut down Cal star Kristine Anigwe, forced 13 turnovers and took a 34-25 lead into intermission.
Cal needed just 2 minutes, 22 seconds in the half to erase the CU lead, and then the Bears kept going. Starting with a late first-half 3-pointer, the Bears used a 20-0 run to change the game.
CU was outscored 19-1 in the first six minutes of the second half.
“In those first few minutes, we went away from everything that we were doing that was making us be successful in the first half, both offensively and defensively,” said CU senior Haley Smith, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. “We weren’t sticking to our principles and playing inside-out like we had talked about, stopping them in transition, boxing them out and not letting them get second-chance opportunities and keeping Anigwe a non-factor, as we had in the first half.”
Anigwe was a major factor in the second half. The 6-foot-4 sophomore finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds — her 26th double-double in 48 career games. She had 25 points and eight boards in the second half.
“They obviously had a concerted effort to get the ball inside in the second half,” Payne said. “At best you just hope to contain her and keep her off the glass, but she’s phenomenal.”
After Cal’s big run, CU responded with an 11-2 surge to tie the game at 46 in the final of the third quarter.
A 12-2 Cal run buried the Buffs by the middle of the fourth quarter, however.
Early on, the Buffs looked primed for the upset win.
Both teams needed a few minutes to get going offensively, but after going 1-for-9 to start the game, the Buffs going rolling late in the first quarter. Alexis Robinson hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight her team-high 18 points in the first quarter.
Late in the second, Kennedy Leonard scored seven consecutive points to give the Buffs their biggest lead of the game, 34-22.
“As a team we had a lot of confidence,” Robinson said. “Those first couple of misses didn’t really affect us; we just kept shooting. Shooters shoot, so we just didn’t stop shooting.”
Unfortunately for the Buffs, not many of their shots fell throughout the night, as they made just 18 of 66 field-goal attempts (27.3 percent).
CU is 1-25 overall (0-23 in the regular season) against ranked Pac-12 opponents since joining the conference. … Cal is 10-1 against the Buffs in the last 11 meetings. … Cal had 12 blocked shots, tying the most ever against CU in a conference game.
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.