COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. — Nobody on the Colorado women’s basketball team had experienced the Nebraska rivalry before Saturday, but head coach JR Payne has been in Boulder long enough to know all about it.
That’s part of why her smile was so wide after her Buffaloes knocked off Nebraska, 75-71, in the second round of the Women’s NIT at My Town Movers Fieldhouse.
“Well, we certainly made it interesting down the stretch, but I told the team they made a lot of people in Boulder very happy down the stretch of the game because I know this game means a lot to a lot of Buffs,” Payne said. “Old and young, everybody wants to beat Nebraska, so I’m really happy and proud of our team today.”
CU (12-10) advances to the WNIT quarterfinals for the first time since 2012. The Buffs will face Mississippi (13-11) on Monday at 6 p.m. MT.
Frida Formann led CU with 18 points, Peanut Tuitele (14 points, eight rebounds, six assists) was impressive once again, and Charlotte Whittaker came off the bench for season highs in points (15) and rebounds (seven) to help the Buffaloes advance. Sila Finau added 12 points, four assists and three steals.
“Postgame locker room is always awesome (after a win),” Whittaker said. “Just a lot of dancing, a lot of singing. It’s really fun.”
CU led most of the game, but Nebraska (13-13) kept it close to the end.
The Buffs led by 11, 68-57, after a Formann 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 58 seconds to play, but the Cornhuskers went on a 9-1 run to pull within three going into the final minute.
CU, which has struggled at the free throw line all season, made six of eight free throws in the last 50 seconds to close out the game.
“I think it helped tremendously,” Whittaker said of previous close-game experience. “I think those close games in the Pac-12 really helped us towards tonight, as well, and the lessons we’ve learned, just to be able to keep calm when adversity hits and trust in each other, ourselves and the calls and everything our coaches make, as well.”
CU won for the sixth time in seven games and got past this one by relying on a variety of players.
Senior Mya Hollingshed, CU’s leading scorer at 16.4 points per game, had just three points against Nebraska, as she spent the most of the day in foul trouble. She fouled out with 3:23 to play after logging only 18 minutes.
With Hollingshed struggling, the Buffs turned to Whittaker, who played more minutes (25) than she has all year. She responded by going 6-for-8 from the field and helping on both ends of the floor.
“It was a really good opportunity for me to step up individually and I love how both coaches and teammates trusted me with that and I really appreciate it,” said Whittaker, who scored in double figures for the first time since Dec. 4. “To give to this team is awesome.”
Whittaker’s performance epitomized the Buffs as a team, as they’ve made a habit of playing team basketball.
For the second game in a row, Tuitele was a major contributor on both ends of the floor, while Finau and Formann ran the offense from the perimeter. CU finished with 15 assists on 24 buckets.
Payne said that about a month ago, she would have had a hard time believing the Buffs would have so much balance on a night that Hollingshed didn’t score much. Saturday’s win showed the development of the team this season, however.
“I talk a lot about how selfless this group is and I think they demonstrate that when they’re willing to step up and take tough shots and guard tough players and things like that in (Hollingshed’s) absence,” Payne said.
Dealing with adversity is nothing new to the Buffs, though, and they’ve now earned the right to extend their season another game.
“We’re just all so proud,” Whittaker said. “We’ve grown so much. Every win counts now and every win is just an amazing feeling going towards our goal. I know we’ve had some rough games or tight games in the past and we’ve just tried to learn to move on and grow mentally from that and grow as a team through adversity. We keep doing that so well and hopefully that’s going to get us further in this tournament.”
Tuitele’s six assists were a career high. … CU is in the WNIT quarterfinals for the fourth time, also getting there in 2012, 2011 and 2008. The Buffs have reached the semifinals just once, in 2008. … The Buffs are 42-28 all-time against Nebraska and they’ve won the last three meetings.
What went right: The Buffs shot the ball well (49%), defended well on the perimeter and got good balance offensively.
What went wrong: CU had some sloppy turnovers that led to 18 Nebraska points.
Star of the game: Charlotte Whittaker. She came off the bench to post her best game of the season, with season highs of 15 points and seven rebounds.
What’s next: The Buffs will play Mississippi in the WNIT quarterfinals on Monday at 6 p.m. MT.
Colorado 75, Nebraska 71
Scoggin 2-8 0-0 4, Cravens 2-2 6-8 10, Cain 4-5 2-2 10, Bourne 4-11 2-2 10, Haiby 6-17 6-6 20, Brown 0-4 0-0 0, Stewart 4-6 0-0 11, Coley 0-3 0-0 0, Cayton 2-3 0-2 6. Totals 24-59 16-20 71.
Jones 2-4 3-4 7, Hollingshed 1-6 0-0 3, Formann 5-12 4-4 18, Tuitele 4-8 5-8 14, Finau 4-6 3-6 12, Kulinska 0-1 0-0 0, Blacksten 0-1 1-2 1, Buford 0-0 0-0 0, Knight 2-3 0-0 5, Jank 0-0 0-0 0, Whittaker 6-8 3-4 15. Totals 24-49 19-28 75.
Nebraska 17 14 16 24 – 71
Colorado 22 12 16 25 – 75
3-point goals – Nebraska 7-27 (Stewart 3-4, Haiby 2-8, Cayton 2-2, Scoggin 0-6, Brown 0-3, Bourne 0-2, Coley 0-2), Colorado 8-19 (Formann 4-7, Hollingshed 1-3, Tuitele 1-3, Finau 1-2, Knight 1-1, Jones 0-1, Kulinska 0-1, Whittaker 0-1). Rebounds – Nebraska 31 (Cravens 8), Colorado 33 (Tuitele 8). Assists – Nebraska 17 (Bourne 5), Colorado 15 (Tuitele 6). Steals – Nebraska 5 (Haiby 2), Colorado 6 (Finau 3). Turnovers – Nebraska 9, Colorado 13. Total fouls – Nebraska 20, Colorado 20. Fouled out – Hollingshed.
Schedule for the WNIT Memphis regional
All times listed are MT.
First round – Friday, March 19
Nebraska 72, UT-Martin 46
Colorado 68, Louisiana 45
Mississippi 64, Samford 45
Tulane 75, Illinois State 67
Second round – Saturday, March 20
Colorado 75, Nebraska 71
Mississippi 72, Tulane 61
Quarterfinals – Monday, March 22
Colorado (12-10) vs. Mississippi (13-11), 6 p.m.