CU women's basketball preview: UCLA
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (14-13, 5-11 Pac-12) at No. 10 UCLA Bruins (21-6, 12-4)
GAME TIME: Thursday, 9 p.m. MT, at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Networks. Radio — KHOW 630 AM
COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 2nd season (31-29 at CU; 132-142 career). UCLA —Cori Close, 7th season (144-84).
LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G Kennedy Leonard, Jr., 14.9 ppg; Rebounding: F Annika Jank, Fr., 7.0 rpg; Assists: Leonard, Jr., 6.6 apg. UCLA — Scoring: G Jordin Canada, Sr., 16.0 ppg; Rebounding: F Monique Billings, Sr., 9.7 rpg; Assists: Canada, 6.7 apg.
NOTABLE: CU has won two in a row, the first time it has won back-to-back conference games since the 2015 Pac-12 tournament. ... The Buffs haven't had a three-game conference winning streak since a 10-game streak in 2012-13. ... CU has lost its last seven against Top-10 teams, dating back to an upset of No. 8 Oregon State in the 2015 Pac-12 Tournament. ... UCLA has lost two in a row, both in overtime on the road, at No. 12 Oregon State and at No. 8 Oregon. Prior to that, the Bruins had won 10 consecutive games. ... Leonard needs five points to pass Jean Raikes (1976-80) for 15th on CU's career scoring list and needs seven assists to pass Shelley Sheetz (1991-95) for second on the career list for assists.
The last time the Colorado women's basketball team played its Pac-12 rivals from Los Angeles, things didn't go so well.
Playing in Boulder, Southern California handed the Buffaloes an 86-51 loss on Jan. 12, and two days later UCLA dealt them a 93-55 defeat. It was the first time in the 44-year history of the program that the Buffs had back-to-back 35-point losses.
"I feel like our worst two games of the year was the weekend that we played UCLA and USC — two great teams," CU head coach JR Payne said Wednesday. "The combination of great teams and a team that was really not so great (at that time) was a bad weekend. So, we're excited for another opportunity to play these guys."
The Buffs get the opportunity this weekend. On Thursday night, CU (14-13, 5-11 Pac-12) will visit No. 10 UCLA (21-6, 12-4), and on Saturday it will visit USC (17-10, 7-9).
While winning either game will be a tough task, the Buffs go into the weekend believing they are a much better team than the one that got routed against the L.A. schools more than a month ago.
"I think we're drastically better, in a lot of ways: emotionally, mentally, physically," Payne said. "Our discipline is better, our toughness is better, our cohesiveness is better. We're excited to play again."
CU is coming off a weekend sweep of the Washington schools in Boulder and before that played well — despite two losses — in a trip to the Bay Area. In fact, the Buffs really haven't played poorly since the losses to USC and UCLA.
"I think we're worlds better," junior point guard Kennedy Leonard said. "We've bonded over these past four or five games, especially since the Stanford/Cal weekend. Coming off two wins against Washington and Washington State, and the way in which we won the Washington State game, has really brought us together.
"I know I'm excited for all of us to have another chance to replay them."
This is the final weekend of the regular season, and CU goes in pretty much locked into the ninth spot in the conference standings — barring several upsets throughout the Pac-12.
While their spot in the standings may not change this weekend, the Buffs have the opportunity — win or lose — to continue their momentum going into next week's Pac-12 Tournament.
"We've done a pretty good job as a team and a program at recognizing the momentum regardless of the fact that the victory isn't always ours," Payne said. "If we are competitive and we can compete on the glass and execute offensively, we have a chance to be successful."
Leonard said it will be imperative for CU to play efficient offensively against UCLA and USC, but also believes the Buffs just need to relax and play.
"We're not putting any pressure on ourselves," Leonard said. "Nobody really expects us to win, so at the end of the day, we have to remember that the pressure isn't on us and if we just continue to play hard and keep having fun, then good things happen."