CU women's basketball preview: Utah
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (10-6, 0-5 Pac-12) at Utah Utes (15-1, 4-1)
GAME TIME: Friday, 7 p.m., at Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City
BROADCAST: TV - Pac-12 Networks. Radio - KHOW 630 AM
COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 3rd season (42-38; 142-151 career). Utah — Lynne Roberts, 4th season (67-45; 288-220 career).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G Quinessa Caylao-Do, Jr., 11.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg; G/F Mya Hollingshed, So., 10.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg; G Kennedy Leonard, Sr., 14.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 7.2 apg, 3.1 spg; G Alexis Robinson, Sr., 9.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg; F Peanut Tuitele, Fr., 8.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg; G Lesila Finau, Fr., 1.7 ppg, 1.2 rpg. Utah — W Dre'Una Edwards, Fr., 12.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg; G Dru Gylten, Fr., 7.6 ppg, 6.2 apg, 2.4 rpg; F Megan Huff, Sr., 19.8 ppg, 9.7 rpg; G Kiana Moore, Jr., 6.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg.
NOTABLE: CU has lost five in a row and is looking to avenge a 76-61 loss to the Utes on Dec. 30 in Boulder. Robinson had 14 points in that game for the Buffs, while Andrea Torres came off the bench for 18 to lead the Utes. ... The Utes' only loss came by two points at home against 19th-ranked Arizona State. ... Utah is just outside of the Associated Press Top 25 this week, at No. 27. ... The all-time series is tied 17-17, but the Utes are 10-4 against the Buffs in Salt Lake City. CU won in its last trip to the Huntsman Center, however, 69-65, on Feb. 1, 2018. ... Utah senior Daneesha Provo, who was averaging 13.5 points and had nine points against the Buffs on Dec. 30, is out for the year with a torn ACL. ...
Peyton Carter has always imagined getting the opportunity to run the offense for the Colorado women's basketball team.
She didn't exactly want that opportunity to come because of an injury to a teammate, however.
"It's unfortunate that it has to happen this way," Carter said this week as she and the Buffaloes (10-6, 0-5 Pac-12) prepare for Friday's matchup at Utah (15-1, 4-1). "I don't want to say I'm excited about it, but it's a unique experience the way things have happened."
A week ago, the Buffs found out that senior point guard Kennedy Leonard would miss the first games of her career because of a foot sprain. After starting 100 consecutive games, Leonard missed both contests last weekend. The Buffs aren't sure when she'll return to the lineup, as she remains day to day.
In Leonard's absence, coaches handed the reins of the offense to Carter and freshman Lesila Finau. Each got a start last weekend.
"We've made it really clear with Peyton and Sila that in those games when Ken is not playing, you're going to play, so do it — don't just go half speed," head coach JR Payne said. "This has been tremendous for both of them because it's kind of trial by fire. You're going to play, so get ready."
Whether that trial by fire was just last weekend or continues for a few more games, the Buffs are hoping the experience will pay off in the long run for their young point guards.
"It's not a good thing that this happened (to Leonard) in the middle of the season, but it's unique because we're getting that experience early for next year," Carter said. "We're kind of getting a preview of next year, especially for both Sila and I, what we need to work on to be able to step into that role with Kennedy leaving next year."
Leonard, who recently became the program's all-time leader in assists, leads CU in scoring (14.1 points per game), assists (7.2) and steals (3.1), while posting a career-best 4.9 rebounds per game, so it was rather earth-shattering for the Buffs to have her sitting on the bench in an walking boot, rather than on the court.
"Ken's played 36 minutes a night for many years now and the point guard is just different than any other position on the floor," Payne said. "I think we're all discovering that Kennedy erases a lot of (miscues). She makes things easier for people. That doesn't mean we can't be successful without her. Everybody has to lean in. Everybody has to pour in more."
Without Leonard last weekend, the Buffs struggled in road losses to Washington and Washington State. They often looked disjointed without Leonard, but this week, Payne said there's been a renewed focus on "controlling the controllables" and being more precise with every task each player is expected to perform.
"Even just going through three full days of practice this week without (Leonard) is adding more minutes as a group on the floor without her," Payne said.
While the entire team has to step up if Leonard can't play, the spotlight will be on Carter and Finau, who hope the jitters of last weekend will be gone as they move forward.
"I was kind of nervous because I hadn't played any Pac-12 games yet, but it was a good learning experience," said Finau, who played 57 minutes last weekend after being on the floor for just 71 minutes during the first 14 games combined. "Just stay calm and communicate; as I was watching film, that's something that I realized I wasn't doing as well."
Payne believes both players have grown up a bit in the past week and added that the team has confidence in both.
While the Buffs hope Leonard can return to the court soon, Carter hopes she and Finau will be ready to lead the team if called upon this weekend and beyond.
"Obviously there were nerves last weekend with starting, but it's good to get that out of the way and get some experience," Carter said. "It's definitely helpful going into this weekend."