PROVO — Welcome to the latest chapter in the continuing saga "The Close-But-No-Cigar Cougars," the BYU women's basketball team that can play with just about any opponent, yet fall behind, mount a furious comeback and still drop a decision by single digits.

Case in point: The Cougars suffered through a first-half collapse in Saturday afternoon's Mountain West Conference contest against Colorado State at the Marriott Center, falling behind by as many as 22 points. A prolonged rally whittled the deficit to five points with as many minutes remaining in the second half before BYU finally succumbed, 72-64.

"It's the same routine — we can't make plays," said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. "We can't make a play when the game is on the line."

And speaking of lines, they came into play for BYU's second loss to CSU this season. In the two-point Jan. 15 defeat in Fort Collins, the Rams shot 29 times from the free-throw line to the Cougars' two. Ineffectiveness Saturday behind the lines again cost the Cougars — 1-of-12 (8.3 percent) behind the 3-point line and 9-of-17 (52.9 percent) at the FT line.

"We've had nine games like that this year, and we've lost all nine," said Judkins, whose would-be-comeback Cougars fall to 13-10 overall and 3-6 in the conference.

CSU improves to 13-9 and 4-5, with Lindsay Thomas' 18 points and Vanessa Espinoza's 17 topping the four Rams in double figures.

BYU guard Julie Sullivan, who tied with center Ashley Chamberlain with team-high honors with 14 points, is anxious for her Cougars to learn from their shortcomings and perform up to potential now.

"It's (almost) the end of the season, and it seems like a lot of the girls are just waiting for the tournament," Sullivan said, mindful like most that BYU's only postseason prospect may come from winning the MWC tournament and the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. "It's frustrating — we've got to do it now."

The Cougars started Saturday's game with anything but urgency, as the Rams raced to substantial first-half leads. BYU was slow in transition, impatient on offense, ineffective in blocking out and slow to extend the defense out to guard CSU's 3-point shooting.

"We came out slow tonight," said Judkins, "and it was more mental than physical."

Agreed Chamberlain: "We weren't playing our basketball - we were playing like they wanted us to play."

The glaring factor in CSU's 40-23 lead at intermission was the Rams hitting five more field goals — all 3-pointers.

Leading the Cougars comeback, Sullivan scored 11 in the second half and Chamberlain 10. BYU drew within 10 in the first three minutes, but had to wait another nine-plus minutes before matching a similarly narrow margin.

The Cougars were within five three times in the final five minutes — the last time at 64-59 with 1:50 to play — but could get no closer than six the rest of the way.

GAME NOTES: Kristin Kozlowski and Danielle Cheesman added eight points each — Kozlowski's in the first half and Cheesman's in the second. BYU leading scorer Ambrosia Anderson, the league's only player to reach double figures in each of the first seven MWC games, failed to score in eight uneventful minutes and managed just three in Thursday night's win against Wyoming . . . Next for BYU: road games at Air Force and New Mexico.


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com