CU women's basketball preview: South Dakota State
GAME TIME: Sunday, 1 p.m. MT, at Frost Arena in Brookings, S.D.
BROADCAST: TV — Midco Sports Network. Radio — KVCU 1190 AM
COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 1st season (16-15 at CU; 117-128 career). SDSU — Aaron Johnston, 18th season (415-141).
LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G Kennedy Leonard, So., 17.0 ppg; Rebounding: F Haley Smith, Sr., 6.4 rpg; Assists: Leonard, 5.7 apg. SDSU — Scoring: G Madison Guebert, So., 15.2 ppg; Rebounding: C Clarissa Ober, Sr., 8.1 rpg; Assists: G Kerri Young, Sr., 3.5 apg.
NOTABLE: This is the seconds round of the Women's NIT. ... CU is 13-5 all-time in the WNIT, including 4-1 in the seconds round. ... The Buffs defeated UNLV, 66-52, in Thursday's first round. SDSU defeated Northern Illinois, 94-84. ... The Jackrabbits are 7-1 in WNIT home games. They are 13-1 at home this season, including 10 consecutive wins. ... Leonard needs just one assist to set a new CU single-season record. She has 177 this year, tying the mark set by Ann Troyan in 1979-80. ... CU is 1-1 all-time against SDSU, but this is the first meeting since an 80-58 loss in Brookings on Dec. 13, 2006.
Having been to Brookings, S.D., as the enemy in the past, Colorado women's basketball coach JR Payne knows what to expect on Sunday.
Payne will lead the Buffaloes into the second round of the Women's NIT against a South Dakota State team that is sure to be ready to roll.
"The environment is awesome," Payne said of playing at SDSU's Frost Arena. "They'll sell out the arena; it'll be 6,000 people. It'll be very, very cool."
Simply playing this late into the season is very cool for the Buffs (16-15), who are in the postseason for the first time since 2014 and went just 7-23 a year ago.
The ultimate goal for the Buffs, and every team, is the NCAA Tournament, but for a young squad with very little postseason experience, the WNIT is a nice reward.
"I think the WNIT is just an awesome experience to be able to have," sophomore guard Ariana Freeman said. "Everyone does want to make it to the NCAA Tournament, but to still be able to play against different teams from different conferences is also a really good opportunity."
At some point in the WNIT, the Buffs will say goodbye to four seniors, including starting forward Haley Smith, but this is a team whose foundation is built on its youth, and in particular the sophomore class.
For those young players, this is the first opportunity to participate in the postseason.
"I was anxious (before Thursday's first-round win against UNLV)," sophomore point guard Kennedy Leonard said. "It's postseason and you win or go home. It's really important for us — especially our class — going into junior season to have that experience behind us."
Going to South Dakota State (23-8) for a postseason game in a hostile environment will give the young Buffs another valuable experience.
"I'm excited," Leonard said. "Obviously it's a great basketball city. We know it's going to be a good environment, and we're going to try to use their energy to feed off of and give us energy."
Ideally, the Buffs will use that energy to get another win and extend the season once again.
"I think the more games we can get under our belt, and making a far run into the WNIT, can just show us the potential we can have next year as the young ones have to step into those senior footsteps," Freeman said. "If we make a good run into this WNIT tournament, I think it'll be awesome and give us the confidence boost we need for next year."