CU women's basketball preview: Samford
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (17-16 last year) at Samford Bulldogs (12-19)
GAME TIME: Friday, 5 p.m. MT, at Pete Hanna Center in Birmingham, Ala.
BROADCAST: Online — Live stream at www.socondigitalnetwork.com. Radio — KVCU 1190 AM
COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 2nd season (17-16 at CU; 118-129 career). Samford — Mike Morris, 16th season (254-202).
LEADERS (2016-17 stats): Colorado — Scoring: G Kennedy Leonard, Jr., 17.1 ppg; Rebounding: C Zoe Correal, Sr., 4.2 rpg; Assists: Leonard, 5.8 apg. Samford — Scoring: G Hannah Nichols, Sr. 13.3 ppg; Rebounding: Nichols, 3.8 rpg; Assists: G Charity Brown, So., 2.1 apg.
NOTABLE: This is the season opener for both teams, although both played an exhibition game. CU defeated Colorado Christian, 90-55, while Samford defeated Montevallo, 94-44. ... CU has won 17 consecutive season openers. ... This is the first time since 2007 that CU has played its opener out of state. Since then, this is just the second road opener (also in 2013 at Colorado State). ... This is the first meeting between CU and Samford. ... In 10 seasons at the Pete Hanna Center, Samford is 96-33 at home. ... Nichols is the only senior on Samford's 13-player roster, which includes five freshmen and six sophomores. ... Eight of CU's 13 players are new to the team, and its roster includes five freshmen and two sophomores. ...
Between offseason workouts, preseason practices and even a summer camping trip, the new-look Colorado women's basketball team has had several opportunities to bond.
This weekend, that bond could be strengthened a bit, as the Buffs open their season with a two-game road trip, beginning Friday at Samford. They'll also play Sunday at North Carolina.
"If we weren't bonded before, I think this trip will probably bond us even more," junior guard Kennedy Leonard said.
Eight of the 13 players on the roster are new to the Buffs (17-16 a year ago), which puts a premium on any opportunity to increase unity. And, while the Buffs always love playing at home, head coach JR Payne said an opening weekend road trip could be exciting for a team that features so many new players, including five freshmen.
"It's cool for our team to go on the road," said Payne, entering her second season at CU. "You always want to play at home, but sometimes it's kind of cool to take a young team — get on the bus, get on the airplane — the whole thing is so exciting for all of your new players that it's kind of an adventure."
With so much roster turnover, this whole season could be an adventure for the Buffs, but it's one they are eager to start.
Outside of Leonard, who enters her third year as the starting point guard, there are a lot of unknowns about this team, but Payne likes the roster.
"I know that we have a great, experienced backcourt that's done a great job of leading so far on the floor, and we have a lot of really young, eager, excited teammates," Payne said. "That combination is great. Sometimes youth is a great thing in that they don't really know we're young or less experienced. They just go out and play.
"I think we have a ton of potential, I think we have a lot of different players that can do a lot of different things."
It all starts with Leonard, who earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors a year ago. The Buffs will also lean heavily on junior guard Alexis Robinson, who is coming back from a torn ACL.
CU also expects senior center Zoe Correal to step up, and hopes to get regular contributions from several newcomers, including forward Janea Bunn, who can score, rebound and defend.
Leonard has enjoyed watching the development of her new teammates throughout the offseason.
"Every day in practice, I see somebody new step up or do something new," Leonard said. "For me, that's exciting because we've been working together since the summer, but to be able to do see someone do something new six, seven months in is kind of cool to see."
Now, it's time to see how the Buffs perform when it matters, and Leonard is ready to get rolling.
"I like practice, but I like to play more," she said. "It'll be a good test for us, especially with our young talent. It'll be a good test to see where we're at as a team and focus on what we need to do."