Courtney Range, just a Cal freshman, got her ninth start of the season Friday night in Boulder against the 17th-ranked Colorado team. Her stat line wasn't that impressive. In her 31 minutes, she made just one basket, missed half of her free throws and had no assists. But then her game changed.
With the game on the line after a furious late Cal comeback, Range made the play of the game, darting in front of Arielle Roberson with 5.5 seconds to bat away a lazy pass by Jamee Swan, track down the ball in the corner, and calmly hit a free throw for the final margin in a dramatic 57-55 win for #19 California.
That said, if former St. Mary's of Stockton teammate Afure Jemerigbe hadn't taken Haley Smith to school on a drive to the basket with just 6.7 seconds left, to give the Bears a 56-55 lead, and if Cal (12-3) hadn't overcome a 53-43 deficit with four minutes to go thanks to a nerve-rattling press that finally proved too much for Colorado (11-4) to overcome, Range wouldn't have had the chance to preserve the win.
The win pushed Cal's Pac-12 winning streak to 18, the longest in the conference, and added to Lindsay Gottlieb's incredible 28-0 Pac-12 record against non-California schools. And, if you like these kinds of stats, it was the sixth straight win for the Bears in the series after Colorado won the first five.
But after Cal led 14-13 in the first half, it looked like the Buffaloes were going to snap all of those streaks. They controlled the game behind Roberson who finished with 21 points (the only Colorado player in double figures), and a desultory Cal effort, which one could attribute to the altitude difference at the mile-high state.
But after Jen Reese made just her second basket of the game to give Colorado a 53-43 lead with 4:00 left, it was the Buffs who looked like the tired team, the Buffs who couldn't seem to find any more gas in the tank.
Jemerigbe started the run with a layup and Gennifer Brandon (back again) converted a natural three-point play, leading Gottlieb to re-insert Brittany Boyd (13 points on six of 18 shooting) and Reshanda Gray (15 points on six of eight shooting), both with four fouls, with 3:33 left.
The pair immediately delivered, with Boyd finding Gray in transition, and suddenly that big lead was just 53-50.
Gottlieb then tweaked her press slightly, shifting Brandon to the top of a 1-2-2, and forced two more Colorado turnovers. Boyd converted the first into a steal, and then Range, who had managed just three points in her first 28 minutes, calmly buried two free throws for a 54-53 Cal lead with 1:58 left.
Reese then turned the ball over, but Brandon inexplicably launched a 19-footer that missed to give Colorado a chance to take the lead with only 33 seconds left. Even worse, the Bears then misplaced Roberson, the Buffs' biggest threat, on a down screen and Boyd had to foul, not only removing the Bears' point guard from the game, but also putting Roberson on the line with 16 seconds left. The 66.2% free-throw shooter calmly buried both, and now the pressure shifted to the Bears.
After a timeout, and with no Boyd, Gottlieb put the ball in Jemerigbe's hands on the right wing, and she went opposite a screen and straight to the hoop to put Cal up again, 56-55, with 6.7 seconds left. Colorado coach Linda Lappe called time to set up a play, but Range came from the top of the key to bat the ball away from Roberson just across half court, and then chased the ball down in the corner to seal a win that seemed awfully unlikely just a few minutes earlier.