Buffs’ Comeback Falls Short Against No. 22 Arizona State

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BOULDER The Colorado women's basketball team played well enough for 35 minutes to beat No. 22 Arizona State, but the Sun Devils did enough in those five minutes to secure a 76-70 win over the Buffaloes on Sunday here at the CU Events Center.

That five-minute stretch was the first half of the fourth quarter, when the Sun Devils scored the first 13 points of the quarter and had a 15-0 run over five minutes to turn a 53-49 Colorado lead into an 11-point ASU advantage, 66-55. Quinessa Caylao-Do spurred the Buffs to an 11-2 run to cut it to a 2-point game with less than a minute left but couldn't pull out the victory. Part of that 11-2 run was six points in the span of 17 seconds after the Sun Devils led 70-62 with just 1:12 left in the game. After Caylao-Do scored five straight points, Alexis Robinson hit a 3-pointer. The Buffs defensive pressure put ASU behind the eight ball. Peanut Tuitele stole the ball under the basket for an easy layup and then Kennedy Leonard stole the ball and hit 1-of-2 form the line to make it 70-68 ASU with 55 seconds left.

But that's was as close as the Buffs would get. With the loss, the Buffs fall to 10-4 and are now 0-3 in Pac-12 play while ASU improves to 11-3 and 2-1, respectively.

"I am very pleased with how we didn't fold," head coach JR Payne noted. "There have been two games in-a-row where we could have. If we were a weaker, softer group of individuals, I think that team would fold. I think we are building a team here with tough, strong individuals that are willing to fight and sacrifice for each other in the moment so this team will never fold."

The Buffs, who have not defeated Arizona State in the last nine tries (the series is now tied 11-11 all-time), looked to be in great shape to end the streak, holding the lead for 22:42 of the 30 minutes through three quarters.

Leonard led the Buffs with 20 points, her third 20-point performance of the season, and five steals and four assists. She got off to a 6-of-6 start from the field, including 3-of-3 from behind the arc and 2-of-2 from the line. She finished 7-of-11 from the field and 3-of-7 from behind the arc with two of those four misses being half-court heaves at the buzzer of the third and four quarters. Caylao-Do scored 15 points and had six rebounds while Robinson (13 points) and Annika Jank (11 points) gave the Buffs four in double-figures. Tuitele had eight points and seven rebounds and Mya Hollingshed led the Buffs on the boards with eight.

Kianna Ibis led the Sun Devils with a career-high 27 points and added seven rebounds.

HOW IT HAPPENED: The Buffs used a pair of 7-0 runs in the first quarter, including a 7-0 run out of the gate, to take an 18-13 lead in the game. The Buffs then led the entire second quarter and had a 34-29 lead after Jank hit a layup with just 1:06 left before halftime, but ASU's Charnea Johnson-Chapman hit two field goals in the paint in the final 35 seconds of the half to cut the Buffs lead to 34-33 at the intermission.

The third quarter was a back-and-forth affair with neither team holding more than a one-possession lead until the last minute. The third quarter saw four ties and eight lead changes and neither team held more than a three-point lead until Jank hit a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left. Ibis hit a jumper with just nine seconds left in the quarter to bring it back down to a two-point lead for the Buffs at 53-51.

The Sun Devils then scored the first 13 points of the fourth quarter to open up an 11-point lead half-way through. Robinson hit a jumper with 5:02 left in the game for the Buffs first fourth-quarter points. Caylao-Do hit two free throws and ASU made it another 11-point lead with 3:30 left in the game. Caylao-Do then hit a jumper and 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to cut the lead to 68-62 with 2:25 left in the game. ASU hit two free throws to push the game to 70-62 and then the Buffs scored six points in 17 seconds to get back into the game. Robinson hit a 3-pointer with 1:12 left in the game to make it 70-65 and then the Buffs put full-court pressure on and Tuitele was the beneficiary of an arrant ASU pass right under the basket and hit a lay-up to make it 70-67. The Buffs continued the pressure and Leonard came up with her fifth steal of the game and was fouled. She hit two free throws with 55.2 seconds left to make it 70-68.

ASU called timeout and advanced the ball to mid-court. On the next possession, the Buffs had two chances to regain possession down two points after the Sun Devils missed a field goal and two free throws, but came up with the offensive rebound each time and eventually hit two free throws to make it 72-68 with 27 seconds left. The Buffs next offensive possession was empty and two more ASU free throws made it 74-68 before Leonard hit a layup with just 6 seconds left in the game for the Buffs final points and ASU hit two more free throws to make the final score 76-70.

"As the leader of this program, I have never once hung my head," Payne added. "This team knows I am always positive and always willing to see the cup half full. This team is competing. This team is battling. I would take this team and go to war with them with any other team in the conference. We have some of the best teams in the country in this conference. I trust our team. I trust our effort and their never die attitude."

TURNING POINT: Up four points after Jank hit a 3-pointer with just 26 seconds left in the third quarter, Arizona State held the Buffs scoreless for the first 4:58 of the fourth quarter to open up an 11-point lead that the Buffs couldn't overcome.

WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs will need to pick up some wins on the road after losing three home games to open the conference season. The effort and energy are there for the Buffs, who dropped the last two games to the Arizona schools by a combined eight points and had changes in the final minute to win or tie both games.

KEY STATISTICS: Colorado opened the fourth quarter 0-for-7 from the floor...the Buffs shot 21-of-43 through the first three quarters...they went 6-of-18 to close the fourth quarter.

NOTEWORTHY: It was the eighth time this season (fifth consecutive) Colorado has had four players score double figures….Leonard passed Tracey Tripp for 10th on CU's all-time scoring list with 15 points in the first half (1,570 career points)…she also moved into ninth on both CU's all-time 3-point list (152) and steals (227)...Colorado shot a season-high 81.8 percent from the free-throw line...

QUOTEWORTHY: "It is hard to win a game when you give up a free-throw box out when we needed it. We had just said before in the huddle to not give up this free-throw box out and we did it. That is just something we have to get better. Hopefully, after we run our sweet 16 [practice drill] we will never do it again." - CU's Kennedy Leonard

"I think every night we have played especially in the Pac-12, we have battled. We just haven't been able to come out with a win. I don't really know but eventually, the wins will come as long as we just keep fighting. That is one thing we have never given up" -CU's Kennedy Leonard

NEXT UP: The Buffs hit the road for the first time this conference season at the Washington schools. CU will take on Washington on Friday, Jan. 11 at 8 p.m. MT and then Washington State on Sunday, Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. The Buffs then head to Utah to play the Utes for the second time in six games on Friday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.