CU women's basketball preview: Washington
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (10-4, 1-2 Pac-12) at Washington Huskies (6-8, 0-3)
GAME TIME: Sunday, 3 p.m. MT, at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle, Wash.
BROADCAST: Online - Pac-12 Plus. Radio - KHOW 630 AM
COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 2nd season (27-20 at CU; 128-133 career). Washington - Jody Wynn, 1st season (6-8 at Washington; 143-127 career).
LEADERS: Colorado - Scoring: G Kennedy Leonard, Jr., 15.0 ppg; Rebounding - F Annika Jank, Fr., 7.9 rpg; Assists - Leonard, Jr., 7.0 apg. Washington - Scoring: G Amber Melgoza, So., 17.1 ppg; Rebounds: F Fapou Semebene, Fr., 5.1 rpg; Assists: G Jenna Moser, Sr., 2.8 apg.
NOTABLE: CU is looking to rebound from an 89-75 loss at Washington State on Friday. ... Washington lost at home to Utah, 74-65. ... The Buffs are 8-12 all-time against the Huskies, including 2-6 in Seattle. The Huskies have won the last nine meetings, although those all came with star Kelsey Plum, who has graduated, leading the way. ... Leonard has 36 points and 18 assists in the last two games. ... CU hasn't won two conference games within the first four games since the 2012-13 season.
Every time the Colorado women's basketball team plays a game, Mouhamadou Diop is awake in the early hours of the morning watching.
From his home in Dakar, Senegal, the proud father enjoys every chance he gets to see his youngest daughter, Mathilde Diop, get on the court with the Buffaloes.
"He's always watching the games and every time he's texting me at the same time," Mathilde said. "He's making comments and always telling me what to do and what not to do."
Half a world away from her home in Senegal, Diop, a long, athletic, 6-foot-2 guard, is playing a reserve role for the Buffs and still adjusting to her new life in Boulder after a whirlwind journey to get here.
Diop, who speaks four languages, went to high school in Arras, France, graduating in 2015. From there, she went to a small college in Washington. After just three months in Washington, Diop went back to Senegal to take online classes, with an eye on going to school in North Carolina.
While doing that, Robert Morris University expressed interest in her as a player, and set her up with an opportunity to return to the United States. The plan was for Diop to play two years at Arizona Western College and then transfer to Robert Morris.
Last spring, however, Diop realized she could move on after one year. CU's coaches were already interested in her and then helped her get on a plan to graduate early.
"Not many people knew she was trying to come out early, so that helped us," CU coach JR Payne said.
To graduate early, however, Diop loaded up on classes, taking a whopping 39 credits last spring and then other classes last summer. She even had to re-take some classes she had previously passed but were not accepted by CU.
"When I found out I could leave after a year, I did my best to do it," Diop said. "I did not have a life (outside of school). I barely slept. I would study all night and all day."
After finally graduating, Diop went back to Senegal for three months, waiting for the NCAA to approve her transfer to CU. She finally got to Boulder in September, three months after many of her teammates, and wasn't able to start practicing with them until October.
"It was a pretty rough journey, but I'm thankful for it," Diop said.
Now that she's in Boulder, Diop is doing her best to adjust — not necessarily to her surroundings, but to a new level of basketball and trying to make up for lost time.
"I think I'm catching up," she said. "It's getting better with the time, so it's pretty good."
CU coaches love Diop's length and versatility on the perimeter, but also know this season is really a developmental year for Diop, a sophomore with two more seasons to play.
"For a young player that has never really played at this level and is at least 20 pounds lighter than she should be to really be able to sustain a lot of minutes at this level, she's doing great," Payne said. "(Next year), she'll be fully in-tuned with everything that's happening and hopefully 10 o r 15 pounds heavier, which will just make things easier for her."
Payne is eager to see what Diop can do after going through an offseason with the Buffs, and Diop is being patient through the adjustment.
"I'm just accepting my role and doing what they tell me to do because I know that's what it is," she said. "I'm definitely learning a lot. I'm trying to play tougher because I know it's not the same thing as a junior college. It's definitely different and I've learned a lot since I got here.
"Every aspect of my game that I can improve, I'm trying to do that so next year will be easier for me."
Having family on her side helps. Diop leans heavily on them for support, especially her father, who was a two-time Olympian with the national basketball team in Senegal.
"He's the first person who put a basketball in my hands," she said. "My family has been a big part of my whole life, my choices and everything. Everything I'm doing, I'm doing for them. I'm just trying to make them proud, especially my dad, because he's been in the basketball field. I'm just trying to everybody proud."
Although it's been a challenging journey, she's doing just that.
"She's overcome a lot just to get to this point," Payne said. "I'm really proud of not just the fact that she's overcome it, but the mentally she's had. She's a very positive person and had a great attitude about it all along."