LAS VEGAS – A veteran team playing its best basketball of the season coming in, the Colorado Buffaloes weren’t immune to postseason jitters on Wednesday.
Experience paid off down the stretch, however.
In the first round of the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament at Michelob Ultra Arena, seniors Peanut Tuitele and Mya Hollingshed led fifth-seeded Colorado to a 64-52 win against Washington.
“It’s a great relief,” Tuitele said of CU’s first conference tournament victory since 2018. “I’m incredibly proud because it was a team win. Three years straight not winning the first game is hard on you, but we came in this week and we had a really good week of practice. … I’m glad that we came out on top and we got this win.”
It took all 40 minutes for the Buffs (21-7) to eliminate the 12th-seeded Huskies (7-16) and snap a four-game losing streak in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Tuitele had 16 points and eight rebounds and Hollingshed recorded the 25th double-double of her career (15 points, 12 rebounds) to lead the way.
“Really proud of our ballclub tonight,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “We knew that it wouldn’t be the prettiest game. Going in, we knew that and expected that. Just a lot of jitters and postseason play and all of those things, but I’m unbelievably proud of our resiliency and how we were able to really stick together and find a way to win the basketball game.”
It certainly wasn’t a pretty game, but CU closed strong, using a 10-0 fourth quarter run to pull away.
A 3-pointer by Washington’s Lauren Schwartz with 3:46 to play in the fourth cut CU’s lead to 52-51.
Moments later, Tuitele hit a layup. Then, with 2:41 to go, Buffs guard Tameiya Sadler collided with Tuitele and was on the floor for several minutes before she was taken off the court on a stretcher.
It was unclear after the game what happened to Sadler, but the break in action seemed to fuel the Buffs. Frida Formann drilled a 3-pointer, Jaylyn Sherrod hit a layup and then the Buffs went 5-for-6 at the free throw line in the final 27 seconds.
“I think it just kind of allowed us to settle into the game more than when we should have,” Hollingshed said of the delay. “We were trying to do that early on in the game and we really just hadn’t. And I think when that moment happened, we just all came together and I know a couple of us were like, ‘We’re just gonna finish this game and finish it for Tam.’”
A year ago, Sadler and Quay Miller, who both transferred to CU in the summer, helped 11th-seeded Washington pull off the upset of the sixth-seeded Buffs in the first round. Despite a last-place finish this year, the Huskies had the upset on their minds again, especially after playing their best basketball of the season in the last two weeks.
Schwartz and Nancy Mulkey each scored 11 points to give the Huskies a chance. They took their first lead, 33-31, with 2:18 to play in the third. The lead changed hands seven more times over the next 3:27.
It wasn’t until the final moments that CU pulled away.
“First of all, credit to Colorado,” Huskies head coach Tina Langley said. “I thought they did a great job defensively and obviously executing late game. I feel like that’s something that we went in and out of a little bit on the offensive end of the floor of being able to just kind of execute what we were trying to be. But that’s credit to Colorado’s defense, too.”
With the exception of the third quarter, CU’s defense was stellar once again and made up for some struggles offensively.
“Our shots were definitely not falling (early),” Payne said. “Luckily, no one’s were really falling for the majority the first half. … We’re a team that’s built on defense and defense has gotten us to this point of the season. They say defense travels and so we locked into that. We really believed if we just stuck to our principles defensively, we would continue to get good looks offensively and we did that.”
They also leaned on their veterans – Hollingshed and Tuitele in particular – down the stretch.
“Our veterans, we all rely on each other and we hold the team to a very high standard,” said Tuitele, who had 10 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter. “I’m grateful for the veterans we have because we know what it’s like losing. We got tired of it and we came together as a team and we’re like, ‘We’re gonna do our game. We’re gonna play great basketball. We’re gonna execute on defense and defense is what got us here.’ Our veterans have done a great job holding this team to a high standard and accountability.”
What went right: CU played great defense and dominated the boards (47-30). They also got their offense going at the right time down the stretch.
What went wrong: Offensive struggles kept Washington in the game throughout the day. The Buffs also had a defensive lapse in the third quarter, which gave the Huskies some momentum.
Star of the game: Peanut Tuitele. The senior matched her season highs for points (16) and rebounds (eight), scoring 10 of her points in the fourth quarter. She also had three assists and two blocks.
What’s next: The Buffs will play Arizona in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday at 1 p.m. MST in Las Vegas.
Colorado 64, Washington 52
Schwartz 4-16 2-3 11, Van Dyke 3-10 0-0 8, Mulkey 3-7 4-4 11, Noble 1-2 0-0 2, Oliver 3-7 0-2 7, Rees 1-6 0-0 2, Peterson 3-3 0-0 8, Watkins 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 19-53 6-9 52.
Tuitele 6-9 3-7 16, Sherrod 2-4 1-2 6, Sadler 3-6 0-0 7, Finau 0-5 0-0 0, Hollingshed 4-15 4-4 15, Jones 0-2 0-0 0, Formann 1-5 0-0 3, Miller 3-8 1-1 9, Wetta 4-10 0-0 8. Totals 23-64 9-14 64.
Washington 8 9 22 13 – 52
Colorado 12 9 19 24 – 64
3-point goals – Washington 8-18 (Van Dyke 2-3, Peterson 2-2, Schwartz 1-5, Mulkey 1-3, Watkins 1-1, Rees 0-2), Colorado 9-24 (Hollingshed 3-5, Miller 2-5, Formann 1-5, Sadler 1-3, Tuitele 1-1, Sherrod 1-1, Finau 0-2, Wetta 0-2). Rebounds – Washington 30 (Mulkey, Oliver 7), Colorado 47 (Hollingshed 12). Assists – Washington 11 (Van Dyke, Oliver 3), Colorado 16 (Hollingshed 4). Steals – Washington 5 (Mulkey, Oliver 2), Colorado 7 (Sherrod, Wetta 2). Turnovers – Washington 13, Colorado 12. Total fouls – Washington 13, Colorado 16. Fouled out – None.