SEATTLE (AP) – Colorado lost for the first time in more than a month because like other teams, they had no answer for Stanford star Chiney Ogwumike.
She was too much for a Colorado team that might not see such a talented opponent during the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Ogwumike scored 25 points and grabbed 19 rebounds, and No. 4 Stanford reached its 12th Pac-12 Conference tournament title game by pulling away in the second half for a 61-47 win over 18th-ranked Buffaloes on Saturday night.
“It hurts because we wanted to win a lot, but I don’t think it hurts our confidence a bit,” said guard Chucky Jeffery, who led Colorado with 19 points. “Our confidence isn’t down. We just have to regroup and be ready for the NCAA tournament.”
The Buffaloes (25-6) saw their 10-game winning streak come to an end after the perennial Pac-12 power raced in front 4 minutes into the second half. A 22-7 spurt put Colorado away and sent the Cardinal (30-2) into their 12th consecutive Pac-12 tournament final.
Stanford will face No. 14 UCLA in Sunday’s title game.
“They’re a good team,” Colorado coach Linda Lappe said. “So, yeah, we have confidence. We believe we should be on the floor with them. It was a great game for us to learn from.”
Amber Orange finished with 13 points and Mikaela Ruef scored 11 for Stanford. The Cardinal made just one 3-pointer, but outscored Colorado 22-3 at the free-throw line. The Buffaloes shot just 23 percent and committed nine turnovers in the second half after leading at the break.
It was the fourth time this season that Stanford trailed at halftime and the first since Jan. 13, when the Cardinal lost to California.
The deficit didn’t last long.
Stanford took control early in the second half thanks mostly to Ogwumike’s teammates. Colorado took a 33-31 lead on Arielle Roberson’s rebound and basket with 17:59 remaining, but the Buffaloes went the next 6 minutes with just one basket. Stanford ran off 10 of the next 13 points to take a 41-36 lead, including five points from James and a driving three-point play by Orange. The run continued out of a timeout with Ruef scoring on consecutive possessions and suddenly the Stanford lead was 45-36 with 10:38 remaining.
Ogwumike did most of her damage after Colorado’s Rachel Hargis got into first-half foul trouble. Ogwumike had just two points when Hargis collected her second foul midway through the first half, then the Stanford star erupted for 23 points over the final 30 minutes.
“Obviously, she’s a great player,” Hargis said. “She’s going to score, no matter what. There’s not much you can do.”
Ogwumike had her usual double-double recorded well before halftime, despite missing her first four shots. But the Buffaloes held a 28-27 lead at the break because no one was helping Stanford’s star. Ogwumike scored seven straight during one stretch and 13 of her 14 first-half points over the final 10 minutes of the half.
“Colorado is a fantastic team, definitely deserving of their ranking,” Ogwumike said. “I’m just really happy that our team responded well to the adversity.”
The Buffaloes held Ogwumike down for 10 minutes, and they pulled off the rare feat of leading Stanford at halftime, but it wasn’t enough to end the Cardinal’s 12-year run in the tournament final.
“We’re not happy, and we’re not satisfied. We’re not into moral victories,” Lappe said. “We’re happy we were ahead at halftime, but we wanted to win the game.”
Stanford swept the season series against the Bruins, beating them by 26 at home and by 11 in Los Angeles. The Cardinal have won the past six conference tournaments, their last loss coming to UCLA in the 2006 final.
“Playing against UCLA we know they have a very big, very physical team, but we have a big physical team too,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I think we match-up well with them and we know we have to play very well.”
– By Scott Johnson, Associated Press
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