It's a tall claim, but any of the nearly 3,000 fans, players, coaches, or media in attendance for CU's thrilling 67-63 overtime upset win over Notre Dame in the Championship game of the second annual WBCA Classic at the Coors Events Conference Center Saturday night would each tell you that they'd never seen the Buffs win in a more exciting fashion. Colorado head coach Ceal Barry was one of them.
"Never," the veteran coach of 28 years said simply of her team's performance in Saturday night's win. "I've never seen anything quite like that. It was amazing. I'm so proud of my team right now."
Colorado shot a dismal .111 from beyond the three point line just a night after its long range performance, particularly the 15-point effort of freshman Emily Waner in her first collegiate game, set them apart from a frisky Old Dominion team in the first round of the tournament Friday.
Six players, three from each team, scored in double figures in Saturday's game. CU senior center and WBCA Tournament MVP Tera Bjorklund rode an 8-12 shooting night to a 21-point performance, her highest output since CU's Sweet 16 loss at the end of last year. Notre Dame saw three players score at least 13 points in the Irish effort, including 14 from senior guard Le'Tania Severe, whose 5-9 shooting mark was tops on her team.
A part of what made the game so unforgettable was the very non-memorable fashion by which the Buffs opened play in the championship. Notre Dame opened the contest with a shocking 12-0 run, during which time four of Notre Dame's starting five scored at least once. The flurry was countered only by Bjorklund's first bucket of the game, a layup more than five minutes into the first half, breaking a 0-6 CU shooting slump which appeared to have doomed the Buffs before most fans had settled into their seats.
Perhaps because of their success from beyond the three-point line against the Lady Monarchs the night before, CU relied heavily on its outside shooting out of the gate in Saturday's game, a strategy which would backfire on the Buffs as the first half wore on.
CU gained its footing painfully gradually during the better part of the opening half, making one final 10-7 run over the final four minutes to bring the game's margin to the closest it had been; a four-point, 37-33 deficit at halftime.
The Buffs finally earned their first upper hand in the contest with 14:27 remaining in the second half. The game's lead swapped hands numerous times from there, with Colorado's largest second half deficit eventually coming with 30 seconds remaining in regulation, as the Irish led by five.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw put her team in a full court man-to-man press coming out of an Irish timeout, which CU easily broke with a long inbound pass fed beautifully down the middle seam of the Irish defense to a wide open Veronica Johns-Richardson. Severe was forced to foul Richardson as she extended for a layup at the other end of the floor, preventing CU with the easy bucket. Richardson would make good on both shots, though, cutting the Notre Dame lead to a still-daunting 55-52 advantage with just 24.8 second remaining in regulation.
The following Notre Dame inbound nearly proved disastrous for Colorado, as Emily Waner took five full seconds to foul Irish point guard Megan Duffy, allowing the clock to run down to 19.8 seconds before Ceal Berry could use a timeout. Duffy, a career 76.3% shot from the line, missed the front end of the ensuing bonus free throw, allowing CU a vital possession with 12.6 second left.
Barry drew up a play which isolated the hot hand of Waner in taking the final shot. When the freshman failed to get open after receiving the inbound, though, she began to improvise; dribbling first to the top of the key then nearly to the left corner before somehow finding Richardson for a three point chance near the top of the key, which she nailed to tie the score as time expired. The shot was only the longball the two-year letterwinner sunk of the four she attempted on the night.
"When it came out of my hand, I couldn't believe it," Richardson said. "The only shot I was able to make all day and it was that one. As a shooter, you can feel when your shot is going to go in and when it's going to miss. I knew all my other shots were off, but not that one."
Momentum seemed undefined between the teams as the overtime period began, with both sides initially committing numerous fouls due to their aggressive play. Le'Tania Severe seemed to hit Colorado with a deciding blow as she iced a three of her own from the left corner with 1:39 on the clock, lifting the Irish to a 62-61 lead.
Teresa Borton made good on both of her free throws with 22.9 second left after CU's Bjorklund was called for a foul after grabbing what would have been an essential defensive rebound.
Down 65-63 with less than 12 seconds remaining, Waner loaded up and connected on a do-or-die three-point shot from the far right corner, lifting the roof off the Coors Events Center and, ultimately, Colorado to its most important victory in years.
"We couldn't hit a shot all night, and when our backs were against the wall, we hit those two big threes," Barry said. "We hit those two shots right at the end. I think our team grew up a lot tonight. Between the hors of 8 and 10, we grew up a lot. It's just a great win for our program."
Colorado, now 2-0 on the season, will hit the court again Nov. 22 against Harvard at the Subway Classic at the University of Minnesota.