CU women's basketball preview: North Carolina

MATCHUP: North Carolina Tar Heels (3-0) at Colorado Buffaloes (2-0)

GAME TIME: Sunday, 1 p.m., at CU Events Center in Boulder

BROADCAST: Online — Cubuffs.com/watchwbb. Radio — KHOW 630 AM

COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 3rd season (34-32; 134-145 career). UNC — Sylvia Hatchell, 33rd season (736-310; 1,008-390 career).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G Quinessa Caylao-Do, Jr., 14.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg; G/F Mya Hollingshed, So., 9.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg; G Kennedy Leonard, Sr., 19.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg; 5.0 apg, 4.0 spg; F Peanut Tuitele, Fr., 11.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg; 30.0 ppg. North Carolina — C Janelle Bailey, So., 14.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg; G Shayla Bennett, Jr., 11.7 ppg, 5.0 apg; G Paris Kea, Sr., 19.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.3apg.

NOTABLE: CU is seeking its first 3-0 start since the 2016-17 season. The Buffs have had one 3-0 start in the last four seasons. ... CU is 1-1 in two previous meetings with the Tar Heels, including an 87-80 loss in Chapel Hill, N.C., last year. ... CU senior Alexis Robinson is off to a slow start with her shooting, hitting 17.4 percent (4-for-23), including 8.3 percent from 3-point range (1-for-12). ... This is North Carolina's first game west of the Mississippi River since a matchup at Oklahoma State in 2015. ... Hatchell is one of five coaches in NCAA women's basketball history with 1,000 career victories.

Like all first-year players, Colorado's Sirena "Peanut" Tuitele has gone through the adjustment to college basketball.


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She's even had a freshman moment, she said, when she bricked a layup.

Two games into her career with the CU women's basketball team, however, Tuitele has displayed some veteran qualities, as well.

"The coaches really emphasize that I shouldn't label myself as a freshman," said Tuitele, a 6-foot-1 forward. "They don't label me as a freshman or treat me as a freshman on the court. They treat me as a player and it's really cool because I don't feel like I'm a freshman on the court. I feel like I'm just another player playing the game I love."

So far, she's been one of the best players for the Buffaloes (2-0), who will host North Carolina on Sunday at CU Events Center.

Tuitele has not been in the starting lineup in the first two games, but leads the team with 9.0 rebounds per game, while scoring 11.0 points per game on 50-percent shooting.

Head coach JR Payne said she has a list of several things she wants Tuitele to bring to the table each game, and added, "Peanut does everything. She can do all of those things."

In addition to rebounding and some scoring punch, Tuitele, from Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, Calif., has brought great energy to the court.

She gives the credit to her coaches and teammates for her strong start.

"I think it's really the coaches and the players encouraging me," she said. "As a freshman, the mindset is different because I'm new and they're all veterans, but with their help, they're just pouring a lot of love into me and encouraging me to shoot the ball, attack. It's helped my confidence grow much faster and quicker than I thought. I just feel so comfortable out there."

Turning that encouragement into on-court results has boosted Tuitele's confidence.

"I came here for a reason and I know why I came here," she said. "Just to see the results I put out there and the team effort, I'm like, 'Wow, I really can do this.'"

Of course, she is only two games into career. The road will get tougher, starting Sunday against the Tar Heels.

"I am excited for a challenge," she said. "I love challenges and I'm ready to step up on it, especially North Carolina because they were one of my dream schools growing up. Being able to play them, I'm excited and our team is going to do our best and the coaches are going to do their best to put a game plan for us and we're just going to try to execute the best we can."

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