CU women's basketball preview: North Dakota State
MATCHUP: North Dakota State Bison (5-1) at Colorado Buffaloes (5-1)
GAME TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m., at Coors Events Center in Boulder
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Plus. Radio — KHOW 630 AM
COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 2nd season (22-17 at CU; 123-139 career). NDSU - Maren Walseth, 4th season (29-64).
LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G Kennedy Leonard, Jr., 16.0 ppg; Rebounding: F Annika Jank, Fr., 8.5 rpg; Assists: Leonard, Jr., 6.7 apg. NDSU — Scoring: G Taylor Thunstedt, Sr., 11.2 ppg; Rebounds: F Reilly Jacobson, So., 6.8 rpg; Assists: G Sarah Jacobson, So., 6.2 apg.
NOTABLE: This is the last of a five-game home stand for the Buffs, who visit rival Colorado State on Dec. 6. This home stand is part of a stretch of 11 consecutive games in the state. ... CU is 2-0 all-time against NDSU, beating the Bison in 1978 and on Nov. 22, 2016, in Fargo. This is NDSU's first trip to Boulder. ... Jank has posted double-doubles in two of her last three games. She has scored in double figures in all six games this season. ... NDSU has five players averaging between 9.8 and 11.2 points per game. ... The Bison were a combined 13-46 the past two seasons. ... As a player, Walseth spent one season playing for the NWBL's Colorado Chill.
Following a 76-61 win against George Mason on Saturday, Colorado women's basketball coach JR Payne opened an e-mail from her mother.
"Hard to believe the first half of that Colorado Christian game was just three weeks ago," it read.
That ugly first half of a Nov. 4 exhibition game has disappeared from the rearview mirror as the Buffaloes (5-1) have won four in a row and looked pretty good in doing it. They'll look to extend their winning streak on Wednesday night when North Dakota State (5-1) visits Coors Events Center.
"The truth is that we've gotten better," Payne said. "We were about as bad as we could be in almost every phase of the game in that first half (against Colorado Christian). I think we've learned a lot. You expect your young team to learn, but they don't always do it and make adjustments, so we've been in some close games ... and we learned a lot."
Starting with the actual opener on Nov. 10 at Samford, the Buffs, with eight new players, played six games in 16 days, experiencing all sorts of scenarios.
"We have some real-life game experience that we can draw upon, as far as being down or being up or when to pull your foot off the gas pedal, when to put your foot on the gas pedal offensively and defensively," Payne sad. "We have a long way to go, but I think we've grown a lot in a short amount of time."
They've even grown through the adversity of losing starting guard Quinessa Caylao-Do to a hand injury. Injured in a 67-61 win against Miami on Nov. 18, the Buffs have had to learn to play without her for the last two games — and may not have her back until Pac-12 play begins in late December.
"Losing Quinessa was a big loss for us because she is one of our most aggressive players and does a lot for us," Payne said, "but other people have really stepped up and we knew that we had a lot of people that could contribute. It's been neat to see people step up in her absence."
Payne said that has to continue against a talented North Dakota State squad.
"Any team that's 5-1 right now is feeling pretty good and is confident and knows what they're doing and have has done some really good things," she said.
The Buffs are one of those teams, but Payne certainly hopes they haven't stopped improving.
The Buffs have to improve their turnover margin (minus-0.8) and need to cut down on their lapses, offensively and defensively.
"There's times where we can score in bunches and times where it dries up and it gets stagnant," Payne said. "If we're not knocking down shots, what are we going to do about it?"
Those are things the Buffs will work on in the coming weeks, but for now, they can look back and see how far they've come to this point.