"I felt like that was one of the most consistent games start to finish we've played this season," CU head coach Ceal Barry said following the game. "We ran well and pushed it up the floor, and I felt like we executive the triangle tonight better than we have all year."
The victory was Barry's 400th at the University of Colorado, making her the winningest coach in the history of the University, regardless of sport, passing legendary CU track and field coach Frank Potts in the process. Barry was honored after the game as fans were given yellow signs with a bold ‘400' printed on them. Barry was unexpectedly hoisted up onto the shoulders of her team following a brief appreciation from University President Elizabeth Hoffman.
"It's a great accomplishment for her," said Tera Bjorklund, who Barry has made the center point of her triangle offense. "I'm glad that we were able to recognize her for that tonight."
Bjorklund, recruited by Barry prior to the 1999 season, has posted noticeable numbers under her coach suring her career at Colorado; including leading CU in scoring 30 times, posting nine double-doubles, and scoring in double figures 67 times, including the victory Friday night.
The Buffs outperformed the visiting Bengals in nearly every way in the first half of the contest, jumping out to an early 10-2 lead less than five minutes into the opening frame. Idaho State would soon cut the deficit to six, as Lindy Whitley stole a ball from Emily Waner and fed it full court to teammate Heidi Gifford for the full-court transition layup. That was as close as the Bengals would come until later in the half, though, as CU took began to take full advantage of the size mismatches they presented to the young Sun Belt team. CU's center-forward combination of Bjorklund and Wirt were responsible for 21 of CU's 45 first half points.
Idaho State's own best of the first half was still to come, though, as the Bengals took over the floor as time wound down; nailing three consecutive three-pointers and a layup in the better part of a minute and a half, cutting what was a half-high 15 point deficit to four with 4:22 to play.
"That was really in the scouting report we had on them," Wirt said of the first half scoring spree Idaho State used to get back into the game. "We feared that they'd get on a roll and be that streaky."
Colorado would soon regain its composure to close out the half with a comfortable lead, using an 8-2 run fueled by four point from Bjorklund in the half's final two minutes to cruise to a 10-point lead.
The teams traded baskets in each of their first four times down the floor with the opening of the second half as Veronica Johns-Richardson scored on two consecutive possessions for Colorado to neutralize Bengal scores from Laraine Barron and Molly Hayes. With Idaho State tossing up threes nearly every time down the floor, coach Barry felt confident in letting the inside play of Bjorklund dictate pace of the game down the stretch. The center scored seven points in two minutes for the Buffs, capping an 8-2 Buff run with a layup with 14:24 remaining increasing CU's lead to 57-43.
Idaho State benefited from another brief three-point shooting streak, as Udy Merrilee connected on back-to-back tres, the second coming at the 10:42 mark, bringing the Bengals once again to within 14. It was as close as the sputtering Idaho State offense would get to Colorado, which provided more of the same inside strategy and improved guard play from senior Kate Fagan, who scored 11 of her 14 points in the second half.
Colorado outscored the Bengals 15-4 in the final four minutes with reserves Leslie Howard and Sarah Lini seeing their first significant playing time in this early season.
Colorado won't have time to savor its largest win of the season, as they'll turn their attention to Cal, 66-43 victors over Lehigh in the earlier game of the tournament. The Buffs and the Golden Bears will square off for the tournament championship Saturday night with a tip time schedule for around 8 o'clock.
"They run our offense, so they know how to play it and defend against it," Wirt said of the Cal effort she witnessed before she and her team took the floor Friday night. "They play against it every day. They have speed, size, and quickness, so it will be a good game tomorrow."