Colorado’s Meagan Malcolm-Peck takes a shot over Chaundra Sewell during a game against the University of Wyoming on Wednesday
Colorado's Meagan Malcolm-Peck takes a shot over Chaundra Sewell during a game against the University of Wyoming on Wednesday ( JEREMY PAPASSO )

All along, the Colorado women's basketball team has known it would depend on the leadership of senior Meagan Malcolm-Peck this season.

So far, the Buffs have done that, but her role is a little different than anticipated.

Back soreness took her out of a game early this season, and, as she has worked her way back into game shape, she's played sparingly in three games since.

"It's nothing I can control," she said. "So I'm just happy for the team that we're doing well."

With Malcolm-Peck being the leader the team needs, the Buffs are 5-0 as they hit the road to take on Illinois on Saturday.

Now healthy, Malcolm-Peck is part of a deep rotation of players. But, despite the fact that she's played just 24 minutes in the past three games combined -- she averaged 25.2 minutes per game in her career before this season -- she still has a significant impact on the team.

"Meagan does a lot for us, whether she's on the floor, whether she's on the bench, whether she's in the locker room, whether she's on campus," head coach Linda Lappe said. "I tell her all the time, her influence on this team and on the season is going to go far beyond when she actually steps on the floor in a game."

Lappe has praised Malcolm-Peck for the leadership she has provided on the court and from the bench, often talking to players and giving them advice.


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"I just keep working every day, and leadership's not just when you're on the floor," Malcolm-Peck said. "I'm constantly talking the whole time, so I'm doing the same thing whether I'm out there or not. I think everyone can hear me, so that's important. Bench energy is important on the road, as well."

Even better, when Malcolm-Peck has played, she has done quite well. In the starting lineup for the season opener, she scored seven points and grabbed eight rebounds to help the Buffs beat Idaho. She hit a 3-pointer at a key point against Wyoming on Wednesday and drained a big 3-pointer before halftime of a close game against San Diego State last Saturday.

On the season, she is averaging 11.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per 40 minutes, big improvements from last year (6.6 and 6.4).

Malcolm-Peck also continues to give the Buffs a lift on defense against opposing forwards.

She admits that it's been different adjusting to the limited playing time, but also said, "I don't think it'll last the whole season.

"I'm not too worried about it."

Lappe has always put the players on the floor that will help CU win, and Malcolm-Peck is sure to be one of those players in a lot of games going forward.

"A lot of it is going to be matchups," Lappe said. "You never know who is going to be on the floor until you figure out what does it take to beat this team? That's the only thing I ever look at. You want to win."

The Buffs will look to get another win as they take on the Illini (4-2).

Illinois has a very good center, Karisma Penn, who has averaged 20.3 points and 10.5 rebounds this season. They are also intent on scoring quick, so Lappe said the Buffs will need to be ready to defend quickly. CU will also have to contend with the different defensive looks it'll get.

Notable

Malcolm-Peck is just 42 points away from reaching 600 for her career. ... With 424 career rebounds, she also has a chance at reaching the 500 mark in that category.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.

SATURDAY: The Colorado Buffaloes (5-0) visit the Illinois Fighting Illini (4-2) in a noon game at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill.

BROADCAST: Radio -- KKZN (760 AM), with Mike Rice on play-by-play and Carol Callan providing color commentary. Online -- BTN.com.

STORYLINES: CU is off to a 5-0 start for the second year in a row. ... CU has won 18 consecutive regular season non-conference games. ... The Buffs are 25-4 under Lappe in regular season non-conference games. ... Illinois is 3-1 at Assembly Hall this season. ... Illinois is averaging 78.5 points per game, while CU is allowing just 56.0 points per game. ... The Illini are allowing 70.7 points per game; CU's offense is scoring 71.6 per contest. ... The Buffs are 47-44 against the Big Ten Conference, although most of that came against Nebraska (41-28), when the two were Big 12 rivals. Take out Nebraska, and CU is 6-16 against the rest of the Big Ten.

KEY STAT: Illinois is 4-0 this season when scoring at least 80 points. The Buffs are 0-5 in Linda Lappe's tenure when allowing at least 80 points. CU has allowed 80 points just once in the past 40 games.

COACHES: Linda Lappe is 44-30 in her third season at CU and 94-66 overall. Matt Bollant is 4-2 in his first season at Illinois and 286-57 for his career.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Colorado -- G Chucky Jeffery, 5-10, Sr. (13.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.3 apg); G Brittany Wilson, 5-7, Jr. (8.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 spg); G Jasmine Sborov, 6-1, So. (4.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Arielle Roberson, 6-1, Fr. (17.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg); C Rachel Hargis, 6-4, Jr. (5.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.0 apg). Illinois -- G Alexis Smith, 5-9, So. (7.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 8.0 apg); G Ivory Crawford, 5-10, So. (17.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg); G/F Amber Moore, 5-11, Jr. (13.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.0 apg); G/F McKenzie Piper, 6-0, Fr. (4.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg); F/C Karisma Penn, 6-2, Sr. (20.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg).

SERIES: CU is 2-2 against Illinois, including a 63-59 loss in Boulder on Dec. 4, 2010. This is just the second trip ever to Champaign for the Buffs; in their previous trip, on Jan. 4, 1998, they lost to the Illini, 88-44.

UP NEXT: CU will host in-state rival Colorado State on Wednesday at 5:50 p.m.