Although defense dominated most of the game between Missouri and Colorado on Saturday, offensive execution was the deciding factor.
Missouri’s seniors committed five costly turnovers in the final minutes, and No. 11 Colorado executed perfectly on its final possession and escaped with a 68-66 Big 12 Conference win in front of 7,154 at Hearnes Center, the fourth-largest MU women’s basketball crowd.
“Good teams make you play bad,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “We had some very uncharacteristic errors and good teams will do that to you.”
With 19 seconds left and Missouri trailing 66-64, senior Evan Unrau made two free throws to tie the game. The Buffaloes quickly took a timeout and Colorado coach Ceal Barry called for a play that would isolate Tera Bjorklund on the weak side of the court.
As play resumed, Veronica Johnson-Richardson made a perfect pass inside to Bjorklund and all Missouri’s Christelle N’Garsanet could do to stop Bjorklund was commit her fifth foul.
Bjorklund, a 6-foot-5 senior who entered the game shooting 59.3 percent at the free-throw line, made both free throws to give the Buffaloes a two-point lead.
After a Missouri timeout, senior Tracy Lozier dribbled the ball across half court and found Unrau at the top of the key. As Unrau turned to shoot, three Buffaloes surrounded her, including Bjorklund, and Unrau’s last-second shot barely made it halfway to the basket.
“We didn’t want (Missouri) to get a good look,” Barry said. “I think Tera made a good read on Unrau by stepping out there.”
Colorado (17-2, 6-1 Big 12) extended its winning streak to five and completed a season sweep against Missouri after beating the Tigers 71-54 on Jan. 18 in Boulder.
For Missouri (11-7, 2-5), the loss marks the end of a two-game winning streak that had rejuvenated the team after its rough start in the Big 12.
After the game, Stein expressed frustration with her team’s offense in the closing minutes.
“Colorado is probably one of the best defensive teams you will ever face,” Stein said. “Your offensive execution has to be really good and you’ve got to make all the right reads.
“Early on we made those easy reads and did some really good things and but I think as we got tired we got really sloppy and then their defense becomes really effective.”
With 4:07 left and the game tied at 58, Unrau picked up her dribble beyond the 3-point line and tried to force a pass to Lozier, but Colorado’s Maria Billingsley stole the ball and made a layup.
The turnover marked the first of four straight Missouri possessions that resulted in turnovers, allowing Colorado to gain a 64-58 lead.
Colorado’s defense forced 23 Missouri turnovers. Unrau and Lozier committed seven turnovers apiece.
“It was tough bringing the ball up and they did a good job pressuring,” Lozier said. “I just turned it over a few times and there is no excuse.”
Despite its miscues, Missouri climbed back in the game by moving the ball inside, drawing a foul and making free throws on each of its final four possessions.
Both teams took advantage of their opportunities at the free-throw line down the stretch, for the final 15 points came on free throws.
Bjorklund led all scorers with 19 points. Randie Wirt added 14 points and 11 rebounds for Colorado. For the fourth game in a row, four players scored in double figures for Missouri. Stretch James led the Tigers with 16 points. Unrau finished with 13 points but could find no satisfaction in her team’s loss to the Buffaloes.
“By no means can we be satisfied,” Unrau said. “I’m pretty disappointed that we missed an opportunity with a great crowd and a great atmosphere to come out with a really big win.”