SEATTLE — On March 23, 2002, the Buffaloes defeated Stanford 62-59 to advance to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.
It was only a mild upset for Colorado's program under Ceal Barry, who put together a roster filled with memorable players, including Linda Lappe.
Twelve years later, the ninth-seeded Buffs were leading the No. 1 Cardinal 28-24 early in the second half of Friday's quarterfinal matchup in the Pac-12 women's tournament.
What would have been a stunning victory for the undermanned, Lappe-coached CU squad quickly spiraled into a deflating 69-54 defeat to Stanford at KeyArena.
The 2013-13 Buffs (17-14) are not headed to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Lappe hasn't decided whether a WNIT bid would be accepted considering the training room is as crowded as the practice court these days.
"It's too early to tell that. We're just so banged up, even the players that are playing are playing on one leg, with one arm," Lappe said. "So we have to kind of look at what's best for our team, what's best for our players. There's a lot of factors that play into playing in the WNIT.
"Obviously, we feel honored that we would be playing in it. But we'll have to just see if this year it's the smartest thing for our club or not."
Lappe and her staff put together a defensive game plan that had legendary coach Tara VanDerveer scrambling for adjustments and All-American Chiney Ogwumike frustrated for about 23 minutes.
CU led 23-21 at the intermission after winning the rebounding battle 25-20 and holding Stanford to 24.1 percent shooting from the field.
Arielle Roberson rebounded like her brother Andre all afternoon and secured 11 boards in 17 minutes before the half. The Cardinal was 1-for-10 behind the arc and missed five free throws, including two front ends of one-and-one opportunities.
Ogwumike was denied post touches and guarded by a host of different Buffs. She entered the break with five points, six rebounds and two fouls.
"It was unconventional physicality," is how Ogwumike, who led the conference in scoring (27.0 ppg) and field-goal percentage (.622) during the regular season, described CU's defense. "It was different. I think they sagged off a few players, they always had a player that was sagging off helping. I think throughout the year we've had a good balance inside and outside. ... It just took us a while to hit our shots."
On Jan. 12, Ogwumike had 34 points and 16 rebounds during Stanford's 87-77 win at the Coors Events Center. That night the Cardinal sharpshooters were 10-for-21 from 3-point distance and the team shot 45.2 percent from the field.
Stanford was held to 35.6 percent shooting, including 6-for-19 behind the arc, with a season-low 21 made field goals in the rematch. However, CU only shot 33.3 percent and allowed 19 points off 15 turnovers.
"They struggled in the first half. We got them out of some of the things they were trying to do. Then they really just erupted in the second half," Lappe said. "Free throws were probably the biggest difference in the game. We put them at the free throw line way too much."
Stanford made 21 free throws. CU attempted nine free throws.
Ogwumike awoke from her brief hibernation and made a 3-pointer to give the favorites a 30-28 advantage. Lili Thompson put an exclamation point on the decisive 11-0 run by the Cardinal with her own deep ball to make the score 35-28.
Stanford did not let up, seizing a 59-40 lead before Lexi Kresl ended a 4:45 scoring drought for the Buffs.
"I thought we played with them a lot through the game," Lappe said. "We just had trouble scoring and defending in the same segment, and that allowed them to get a lead on us. We were never able to recover from that."
Brittany Wilson made 3-pointers to give the Buffs early leads of 3-0 and 7-4. Lauren Huggins beat the shot clock with a deep 3-pointer to give the underdogs their largest lead, 10-4, with 13:53 remaining in the first half.
Thompson was fouled on Stanford's only made 3-pointer of the first half and completed the four-point play to cap a 9-0 sport, which gave her team a 13-10 advantage. But the Cardinal did not make another field goal for 4:26.
Wilson's 3-pointer with 41 seconds left put her team ahead at halftime, despite CU shooting 27.6 percent from the field. The senior was the only player in double figures with 11 points at the break, finishing with a team-high 16 points on 5-for-20 shooting.
"I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world. I'm proud of the fight that we gave every year. When our backs are against the wall, we fight," Wilson said as tears began to stream down her face. "That's one thing I can always say about this team. It doesn't matter if we have three, if we have six, we're coming to fight. I think we showed that until the buzzer went off. That's all I can ask for."
Haley Smith (10 points) was the only other CU player in double figures scoring. Roberson (eight points, career-high 17 rebounds) did her best to counter Ogwumike (19 points, 11 rebounds) and Mikaela Ruef (10 points, 16 rebounds).
"I think the whole season helped me progress, but especially going against Chiney," Roberson said. "I think she's made me tougher, she's given me a lot of things to work on I know from my weaknesses. It's a great honor to go against her and show her what I've got."
The Cardinal (29-2) advances to Saturday's semifinals seeking its 11th conference tournament title in 13 years.
CU, ranked as high as No. 12 in the polls before injuries and parity within the improved Pac-12 rudely interrupted the fun, returns to Boulder to reconstruct and attempt to close the gap on Stanford.
"I'm proud of how we played all year just in terms of our resiliency and our fight," Lappe said. "Sometimes when a season doesn't go the way you want it to go there's a tendency to put forth less than your best effort, because you might not be good enough. We didn't see that from our team."
No. 4 Stanford 69, Colorado 54
Roberson 4-9 0-1 8, Hargis 1-4 0-0 2, B. Wilson 5-20 2-2 16, A. Wilson 2-9 3-4 8, Smith 5-7 0-0 10, Kresl 1-6 1-2 3, Harris 0-0 0-0 0, Huggins 1-2 0-0 3, Beard-Fails 0-1 0-0 0, Swan 2-5 0-0 4. Totals 21-63 6-9 54.
Ruef 4-9 2-5 10, Ogwumike 6-15 6-9 19, B. Samuelson 4-10 4-4 15, Thompson 4-10 6-6 16, Orrange 1-4 1-3 3, Green 0-2 2-2 2, Greenfield 0-1 0-0 0, Roberson 0-2 0-0 0, James 0-0 0-0 0, Camp 0-0 0-0 0, McCall 1-1 0-0 2, Johnson 1-4 0-1 2, K. Samuelson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-59 21-30 69.
Halftime — Colorado 23-21. 3-point goals — Colorado 6-22 (B. Wilson 4-11, Huggins 1-2, A. Wilson 1-4, Roberson 0-2, Kresl 0-3), Stanford 6-19 (B. Samuelson 3-8, Thompson 2-3, Ogwumike 1-1, K. Samuelson 0-1, Green 0-1, Ruef 0-1, Johnson 0-2, Orrange 0-2). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Colorado 40 (Roberson 17), Stanford 43 (Ruef 16). Assists — Colorado 12 (Roberson 4), Stanford 11 (Ruef 5). Total Fouls_Colorado 28, Stanford 15. A_NA.