A quick visit to Los Angeles a month ago left the Colorado women’s basketball team with an empty feeling after it let a win get away against Southern California.
With the Trojans in Boulder on Friday night, CU didn’t let this one get away.
CU dominated the last 16 minutes to knock off USC, 66-56, at CU Events Center.
“I’m really proud of our ballclub today,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “I was just telling them, it takes a lot more guts and grit and resiliency to be down, not playing particularly well on either side of the floor, and to not give up and kind of dig in and fight back. I’m really, really proud of how we responded because we were not playing very well.”
Despite a slow start, the Buffs (8-9, 6-8 Pac-12) won their second straight and snapped a three-game winning streak by USC (9-8, 7-7). The Trojans defeated the Buffs, 56-52, on Jan. 11.
“For us, it was basically like revenge,” junior guard Sila Finau said. “We knew that we should have won that game back in LA, but we didn’t, so we just knew we had to step it up.”
Finau was exceptional on both ends of the floor, finishing with eight points, a career-high eight rebounds, four assists, two steals, two blocks and no turnovers.
“I thought Sila was just incredible tonight,” Payne said.
CU also got good performances from Mya Hollingshed (18 points, six rebounds), Frida Formann (17 points, four assists) and Peanut Tuitele (11 points, six rebounds). Off the bench, Aubrey Knight added six points, six rebounds and three steals.
As a group, the Buffs overcame a poor start. They trailed by 13 points early, and still faced an eight-point deficit with 6 minutes, 47 seconds to play in the third quarter.
“During halftime, we just came together,” Finau said. “We said we need to pick it up, we need to take care of the ball, start playing defense, get back on defense. I think just believing in each other and talking to each other through the tough times helped us.”
It also helped that Formann found her groove from the 3-point line. She hit two 3s to spark a 7-0 run to pull the Buffs within 40-39. That helped CU close the third quarter on a 15-7 run to tie the game at 47-47.
“It was a good stretch,” Formann said. “We were really good at executing our plays. We knew what we were going for, and I knew that if I just made a couple, we would be back in the game. So I think in that stretch, we were really just going to who was open, going for what was open, and then we also defended well.”
CU carried that into the fourth quarter, opening the final frame on a 9-2 run to open up a 56-49 lead. The Buffs never trailed again.
“We really didn’t want to lose this game,” Formann said. “I think we just dug deep and tried to figure out where they were hurting us. We’re really good at executing what we talked about in halftime and timeouts and adjusting both our defense and offense. So I think we just didn’t want to lose today.”
The Buffs have reached the six-win mark in conference play for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
“I just think the cohesiveness of our team is really pretty good right now,” Payne said. “The way that they’re communicating in free throw huddles and timeouts is pretty good. I’m not having to be the one that’s communicating every single thing in timeouts. They’re taking the reins and doing those things.
“I think when you have a group that can lead themselves in those moments, it speaks volumes to leadership and things that we’re doing.”
Knight returned after missing the previous two games with a leg injury. … CU had a dominating 42-25 advantage in rebounding. … One of the lowest-ranked free throw shooting teams in the country this season, the Buffs were 14-for-18 from the line against the Trojans. It was CU’s best percentage this season when attempting at least 10 free throws. … After making 6-of-15 3-pointers in the first half, USC was 1-for-10 after intermission.
What went right: Defensively, the Buffs locked in during the second half and held the Trojans to just 23 points after intermission. CU also dominated the boards (42-25) and hit free throws (14-for-18).
What went wrong: It was a slow first half for the Buffs, who fell into a 13-point deficit early.
Star of the game: Sila Finau. The junior played perhaps the best all-around game of her career, finishing with eight points, a career-high eight rebounds, four assists, two steals, two blocks and no turnovers.
What’s next: CU is scheduled to host No. 8 UCLA on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Colorado 66, Southern California 56
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (9-8, 7-7 Pac-12)
Rogers 1-9 2-2 4, Sanders 2-4 2-4 6, Caldwell 2-6 0-0 5, Jenkins 3-3 1-1 8, Pili 6-12 0-0 12, Aaron 3-9 0-0 9, Jackson 2-6 0-0 4, White 0-0 0-0 0, Miura 3-6 0-0 8. Totals 22-55 5-7 56.
COLORADO (8-9, 6-8 Pac-12)
Jones 0-2 0-0 0, Formann 5-15 2-2 17, Finau 3-7 2-5 8, Hollingshed 7-12 4-4 18, Tuitele 4-6 3-3 11, Kulinska 0-1 0-0 0, Blacksten 1-2 0-0 3, Knight 2-5 2-2 6, Jank 0-0 0-0 0, Whittaker 1-3 1-2 3. Totals 23-53 14-18 66.
Southern California 21 12 14 9 – 56
Colorado 12 18 17 19 – 66
3-point goals – USC 7-25 (Aaron 3-9, Miura 2-5, Caldwell 1-4, Jenkins 1-1, Rogers 0-4, Pili 0-1, Sanders 0-1), Colorado 6-19 (Formann 5-11, Blacksten 1-2, Finau 0-2, Hollingshed 0-2, Tuitele 0-1, Jones 0-1). Rebounds – USC 25 (Pili 7), Colorado 42 (Finau 8). Assists – USC 18 (Caldwell 7), Colorado 14 (Formann, Finau 4). Steals – USC 10 (Pili 4), Colorado 9 (Knight 3). Turnovers – USC 12, Colorado15. Total fouls – USC 13, Colorado 13. Fouled out – None.