BOULDER, Colo. -- Unable to hit free throws with any consistency down the stretch, No. 7 California still found a recipe for success with some old-fashioned defense and rebounding.
Brittany Boyd scored 15 points, Reshanda Gray and Afure Jemerigbe both rebounded missed free throws late, and Layshia Clarendon figured in a defensive stop that prevented a last-second shot as Cal hung on to beat No. 20 Colorado 53-49 on Sunday.
"That was very important," Boyd said of Cal's physical finish. "I think rebounding is the key to our team. I just think we were dialed in, focused and didn't want to lose."
Jemerigbe and Gray added 10 points apiece for Cal (12-1, 2-0 Pac-12 Conference), which is off to its best start ever. The Golden Bears won their sixth straight since their only loss of the season, a 77-63 setback at No. 3 Duke. It was Cal's fourth win in a row against Colorado, which still leads the series 5-4.
Chucky Jeffery scored 10 of her 13 points in the second half, leading a rally by Colorado (11-2, 0-2). But she also committed a key turnover -- forced by Clarendon's tenacious defense in the final moments -- that denied the Buffaloes a chance to get off a final shot.
"Obviously, in a one-possession game, that was huge," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "It's two great players going at it, and we're lucky to have Layshia. She's just a great leader and an all-around complete kid on the offensive and defensive end."
It was the second consecutive loss in the league for Colorado after an 11-0 start in nonconference play.
Arielle Roberson added 11 points for Colorado, which lost to No. 4 Stanford in its Pac-12 opener Friday.
With Cal leading 51-43 with less than three minutes left, Colorado ran off six straight points, capped by Brittany Wilson's fast-break layup with 16.7 seconds left.
Clarendon missed two free throws, but Talia Caldwell managed to tie up Jeffery on the rebound, and the possession arrow gave the ball back to Cal. Clarendon was again fouled with 10.3 seconds left, and she made 1 of 2.
But Colorado never got a chance to attempt a tying 3-pointer when Jeffery turned the ball over with 5.2 seconds to go.
Cal again missed two free throws -- this time by Boyd -- but Jemerigbe pulled down the offensive rebound. Jemerigbe made a foul shot to finally clinch the victory.
"We were getting shoved under the rim," Colorado coach Linda Lappe said. "They were lower, more physical and quicker than us off the line. A lot of times, they were getting inside position before we had inside position and then they exploded up. I felt like our guards could have helped out a little more. But not getting those rebounds, I think, was the difference in the game."
Jeffery echoed her coach's sentiments.
"We had more opportunities than we can ever expect (down the stretch)," Jeffery said. "We have to bear down and box out and get a rebound. They gave us opportunities to rebound. We have to get tougher."
Cal outrebounded Colorado 43-34. It was the second straight time the Buffaloes had been outrebounded after either winning or tying the rebounding battle in their first 11 games, all wins.