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Fourth-quarter rally ends Arizona drought for No. 5 CU Buffs women's basketball

Jan. 5—Fast break

Why the Buffs won: CU outscored Arizona 23-16 in the fourth quarter and survived two go-ahead shot attempts by the Wildcats in the final minute.

Three stars:

1. CU's Jaylyn Sherrod: Sherrod went 5-for-10 from the field and 7-for-9 at the free throw line before finishing with 18 points, four assists and four steals.

2. CU's Quay Miller: Bounced back from a rough game against Utah to nearly post a double-double, finishing with 14 points and a game-high-tying nine rebounds.

3. UA's Jada Williams: Scored 10 of her 16 points in the second half and also recorded five assists.

Up next: CU completes its trip through the desert at Arizona State on Sunday (noon, Pac-12 Arizona).

TUCSON, Ariz. — Earlier this week, as the Colorado women's basketball team prepared for its first Pac-12 Conference road game, head coach JR Payne gathered the squad together to ask a pointed question.

Payne asked for a show of hands for those who have enjoyed victories at Arizona's McKale Center. Only assistant coach Alex Earl raised her hand, and her big moments in Tucson occurred more than a decade ago when she was a player at Arizona State.

The answer to Payne's question is much different now.

Using a big fourth quarter while making key plays in the final minutes, the fifth-ranked CU women survived a spirited upset bid from the shorthanded Wildcats to post a 75-74 win on Friday night in a Pac-12 Conference battle.

The victory ended a run of five straight losses at Arizona and gave the Buffs their first win in Tucson in eight seasons under Payne. The Wildcats played with only seven players available.

"Nobody has ever won here on the Colorado bench," Payne said, "so that was pretty great."

CU's run of frustration at UA very nearly continued thanks to a slew of missed layups, a glut of first-half turnovers, and often porous defense until the fourth quarter.

The Buffs committed 13 turnovers in the first half and allowed the Wildcats to get to the rim far too frequently, as UA posted a .552 shooting percentage in the first two quarters compiled largely by easy drives to the hoop. But the Buffs' own solid shooting — they put up a .481 mark in the first half while going 4-for-9 on 3-pointers — allowed CU to take a 38-36 lead into halftime.

"We missed a bunch of layups and I couldn't really get it going from three," CU senior Frida Formann said. "Things that maybe normally happen for us, we didn't succeed with that. But I think where our toughness and our veteran team kind of shows is we can still pull it out. We can make heady plays, back cuts, O-boards. We just know how to win even if it's not going our way."

CU's defense improved in the second half, but the Buffs' shooting touch momentarily abandoned them, as they went 6-for-20 in the third quarter. Arizona was able to take advantage, scoring the final 10 points of the third quarter before adding the first basket of the fourth to take a 60-52 lead.

From there, the Buffs chipped away, with contributions from across the rotation. Formann finished 0-for-5 from long range, but she knocked down a pair of free throws before finding Kindyll Wetta for a layup that trimmed the deficit to four points. Sara-Rose Smith converted a layup off an inbounds play, then recorded a 3-point play that pulled the Buffs within one point. Then, Aaronette Vonleh converted consecutive hoops to complete a 15-5 run that turned the eight-point deficit into a two-point lead.

Arizona recaptured the lead for the final time at 72-71 on a 3-pointer from Helena Pueyo, but guard Jaylyn Sherrod put the Buffs back in front with a 3-point play, adding another free throw moments later to give CU a 75-72 lead.

A bucket from UA's Esmery Martinez got the Wildcats within a point, and after the last of CU's 19 turnovers the Buffs twice had to survive go-ahead shot attempts from Arizona. The final attempt from Breya Cunningham was a good look in the lane off an inbounds play, but when it caromed off the rim at the buzzer the Buffs began celebrating their sixth consecutive win.

UA's .552 shooting percentage — the Wildcats went exactly 16-for-29 in both halves — was the top mark by a CU foe this season, but a shift to a zone defense in the final frame helped limit the Wildcats to a .438 mark from the floor in the fourth quarter while going 2-for-7 from the arc.

"I thought we started playing gap defense a little bit better," Payne said. "We were a little bit of zone in the fourth quarter, but really tried to prioritize keeping them in front of us, which is sometimes easier said than done. But I thought our team defense was better in the fourth."

COLORADO (12-1, 2-0)

Vonleh 4-10 3-5 11, Miller 6-12 0-0 14, Sherrod 5-10 7-9 18, Formann 2-7 2-2 6, Nolan 2-3 0-0 6, Sadler 3-8 0-0 7, Whittaker 1-1 0-0 2, Smith 3-6 1-1 7, Wetta 2-4 0-0 4, McLeod 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-61 13-17 75.

ARIZONA (9-5, 1-1)

Martinez 4-6 1-1 9, Cunningham 5-7 1-2 11, Williams 6-9 2-2 16, Pueyo 4-7 0-0 9, Gilbert 8-21 2-3 19, Jones 3-3 0-0 6, Blakely 2-5 0-0 4. Totals 32-58 6-8 74.

Colorado 19 19 14 23 — 75

Arizona 16 20 22 16 — 74

3-point field goals — Colorado 6-19 (Vonleh 0-1, Miller 2-2, Sherrod 1-3, Formann 0-5, Nolan 2-3, Sadler 1-2, Smith 0-2, Wetta 0-1); Arizona 4-11 (Williams 2-3, Pueyo 1-3, Gilbert 1-4, Blakely 0-1). Rebounds — Colorado 41 (Miller, Smith 9); Arizona 21 (Pueyo 6). Assists — Colorado 21 (Formann 5); Arizona 15 (Williams 5). Turnovers — Colorado 19 (Vonleh, Miller, Sherrod, Smith 3); Arizona 14 (Martinez 5). Total fouls — Colorado 15, Arizona 15. Attendance — 7,386.