CU women's basketball preview: Iowa
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (17-15) at Iowa Hawkeyes (19-13)
GAME TIME: Thursday, 6 p.m. MT, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.
BROADCAST: TV - None. Online - Live stream at hawkeyesports.com. Radio - KVCU 1190 AM
COACHES: Colorado - JR Payne, 1st season (17-15 at CU; 118-128 career). Iowa - Lisa Bluder, 17th season (342-201 at Iowa; 698-343 career).
LEADERS: Colorado - Scoring: G Kennedy Leonard, So., 17.4 ppg; Rebounding: F Haley Smith, Sr., 6.4 rpg; Assists: Leonard, 5.8 apg. Iowa - Scoring: F Megan Gustafson, So., 18.7 ppg; Rebounding: Gustafson, 10.0 rpg; Assists: G Kathleen Doyle, Fr., 4.3 apg.
NOTABLE: This is the third round of the Women's NIT. CU is 14-5 all-time in the WNIT and has reached the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in six trips to this tournament. The Buffs are seeking their fourth appearance in the quarterfinals. ... The Buffs have defeated UNLV and South Dakota State in the first two rounds. ... Sophomore guard Alexis Robinson injured her knee in Saturday's practice and missed the game against SDSU. She is day-to-day this week. ... Gustafson had a career-high 33 points on 15-of-16 shooting in Iowa's 78-73 win against South Dakota on Sunday. She also had 13 rebounds and had posted 17 double-doubles this season. ... Senior Ally Disterhoft became Iowa's all-time leading scorer last week. She has 2,071 career points and averages 16.
It shouldn't take long for Colorado junior Zoe Correal to get motivated for Thursday's matchup at Iowa in the Women's NIT.
"You should just look at the stat sheet and be personally challenged," CU head coach JR Payne said.
Correal, a 6-foot-4 junior center, will face one of her toughest tests of the season when the Buffaloes (17-15) head to Iowa City for a Sweet 16 matchup against the Hawkeyes (19-13).
Iowa is led by sophomore center Megan Gustafson, who averages 18.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and hits a remarkable 64.9 percent of her shots. The 6-foot-3 Gustafson is one of the highest-scoring post players in the country and ranks fifth nationally in field goal percentage.
"I'm excited," Correal said. "I'm always excited to play a good post player. It's a good test for me as a defender and it's a cool battle. I think it's more of a fun opportunity. You get to compete and go up against a really good post player."
Correal's numbers (4.4 points, 4.3 rebounds per game) don't compare to Gustafson's, and she's had an up and down season, but she and the Buffs have had some success against quality post players this season.
Figuring out how to contain Gustafson could be a huge factor in CU's ability to extend the season.
"We've had success against big kids," Payne said. "We've played against some fantastic post players. Most of those times that we've done that, we haven't had to play them one on one; it's been a group effort."
Playing as a group has helped the Buffs gain confidence throughout this tournament and will be important against the Hawkeyes. The Buffs have won back-to-back games for the first time since December, when they started the year 10-0.
"We're all very thrilled," sophomore Makenzie Ellis said of the Buffs' success in this tournament. "It's just great to keep competing and still be playing in this postseason. It's been really awesome.
"It's bringing us closer together."
CU has played well in both WNIT games, especially with shooting.
After struggling all year, the Buffs have hit 52.6 percent of their shots in the last seven quarters. They've connected on at least 43.4 percent of their shots in three straight games — their best three-game stretch of the season.
"We've just been in a great flow of the game," Ellis said. "Everybody has just been more confident in shooting; no one has been hesitant. I think that confidence is a big factor."
The Buffs have also out-rebounded both opponents in the WNIT and played good defense at critical moments.
Iowa figures to be a tougher test, but Payne said her team ought to feel confident going in.
"I think we know that we're capable of playing really well," Payne said. "We know that we can defend, we know that at times we can score, we know that if we really set our mind to it, we can rebound. But it has to be a very concentrated effort in all of those things. I hope they're confident.
"We should be loose. We certainly should be care-free; just go in, play hard, have fun and celebrate our success."
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.