CU women's basketball preview: Arizona

MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (11-6, 2-4 Pac-12) at Arizona Wildcats (4-13, 0-6)

GAME TIME: Friday, 6 p.m. MT at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network. Radio — KVCU 1190 AM

COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 2nd season (28-22 at CU; 129-135 career). Arizona - Adia Barnes, 2nd season (18-29).

LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G Kennedy Leonard, Jr., 14.0 ppg; Rebounding: F Annika Jank, Fr., 7.8 rpg; Assists: Leonard, Jr., 6.4 apg. Arizona — Scoring: G JaLea Bennett, Sr., 15.0 ppg; Rebounds: F Sam Thomas, Fr., 8.3 rpg; Assists: G Lucia Alonso, So., 3.6 apg.

NOTABLE: CU is looking to snap a two-game losing streak, while Arizona lost six in a row and 13 of its last 15. ... The Buffs defeated the Wildcats, 79-60, in Boulder on Dec. 31. ... CU is 16-4 all-time against Arizona, including 6-3 in Tucson. Since joining the Pac-12, CU is 10-1 in the series. ... Leonard needs six assists to pass Tracy Tripp (1985-89) for fifth in CU history for career assists. Leonard comes into the game with 438 in her career. ... Jank has struggled of late, but has posted 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game on the road this season.

Last weekend was about as ugly as it gets for the Colorado women's basketball team.

Head coach JR Payne took a great deal of encouragement, however, from how the Buffaloes have rallied.


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CU (11-6, 2-4 Pac-12) will hit the road Friday at Arizona (4-13, 0-6), looking to bounce back from a weekend in which it lost by 35 to Southern California and by 38 to UCLA — the first time in program history that the Buffs have suffered back-to-back 35-point losses.

"We've responded very well," Payne said. "We've had probably the best two practices of the year back to back. I think we're probably all anxious to get back on the court and get a nasty taste out of our mouth. I think we're excited and in a really good place."

Payne said she and the staff changed the practice structure a bit, and that has helped the players put the tough losses behind them and focus on the future.

"Our practices have been a lot more aggressive and we've been really competitive and I think everyone has been locked in," sophomore guard Quinessa Caylao-Do said. "I just don't think we want to have that feeling we had last week.

"I think it's helped everyone with their confidence and we've just been doing a lot of skill work, so I feel like everyone has gotten better."

Facing the Wildcats could be what the Buffs need. They defeated Arizona, 79-60, on Dec. 31 in Boulder. While no game is a cakewalk, the Wildcats have struggled throughout the season, and it offers a good chance for CU to get back into the win column.

The key to that, however, could be the Buffs ability to protect the ball.

CU ranks last in the Pac-12 and 290th nationally with 18.5 turnovers per game, posting at least 20 turnovers seven times. Last year, the Buffs averaged just 13.8 turnovers and had at least 20 turnovers just twice.

"I don't know if it's the most important thing (to improve), but if not, it's right there as the most important thing," Payne said.

"The thing that bothers me about our turnovers now is they're leading directly to our opponents' points. I told them earlier, I would rather you drop-kick the ball into the bleachers, because at least we could turn around and go back and play defense. When you turn the ball over on ball-reverses, it directly leads to points."

Of the 179 points allowed by the Buffs last weekend against USC and UCLA, 52 (29.1 percent) came off of their turnovers.

The turnovers are a team-wide issue, with several players racking up high numbers, but Payne believes they can cut those down.

"A lot of these turnovers are coming from simply pass and catch," she said. "They're coming from being able to get open and deliver a pass, so those are things I feel very strongly we can do better. These are fixable turnovers. We just need to be conscious of it."

This week, the Buffs have been conscious of all their faults, as they strive to move past a pair of tough losses and get back in the win column.

"We can all do more, we can all be more effective," she said. "We're all taking it pretty seriously."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33