CU women's basketball preview: Arizona State

MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (11-12, 1-11 Pac-12) at No. 19 Arizona State Sun Devils (16-6, 7-4)

GAME TIME: Friday, 6 p.m. MT, at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz.

BROADCAST: Online — CUBuffs.com/watchWBB. Radio — KHOW 630 AM

COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 3rd season (43-44; 144-157 career). ASU — Charli Turner Thorne, 22nd season (438-252; 478-292 career).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G Quinessa Caylao-Do, Jr., 10.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg; G/F Mya Hollingshed, So., 11.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg; G Alexis Robinson, Sr., 12.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg; F Peanut Tuitele, Fr., 6.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg; G Lesila Finau, Fr., 3.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg. ASU — G/F Courtney Ekmark, Sr., 10.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg; F Kianna Ibis, Sr., 14.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg; C Charnea Johnson-Chapman, Sr., 5.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg; F Reili Richardson, Jr., 5.5 ppg, 4.6 apg; G Robbi Ryan, Jr., 7.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg


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NOTABLE: The Buffs got their first Pac-12 victory on Sunday, 81-76 against Southern California. CU snapped a 13-game regular-season Pac-12 losing streak, dating back to last season. ... CU has lost nine consecutive Pac-12 road games. ... The Buffs and Sun Devils are tied, 11-11, in the all-time series, but ASU has won the last nine meetings, including 76-70 in Boulder on Jan. 6. ... The previous meeting with ASU was the last time CU senior point guard Kennedy Leonard played. She had 20 points in the loss, but has missed the last nine games with a foot injury. ... In Pac-12 play, Robinson has averaged 16.8 points per game. She has posted 20.4 points per game in the last seven. ... ASU has had the same starting five — Ekmark, Ibis, Johnson-Chapman, Richardson and Ryan — for every game this season. ... CU has lost 37 consecutive road games against Associated Press Top 25 teams — dating back to a 62-51 win at No. 20 Vanderbilt on Dec. 9, 2007.

Even throughout a long losing streak, the Colorado women's basketball team continued to show up ready to work every day.

Coming off a win for the first time in 2019, however, has put some extra bounce in the step of the Buffaloes.

"Everyone is practicing really hard and we're all really happy," freshman Emma Clarke said of the Buffs' snapping an 11-game skid with an 81-76 win against Southern California on Sunday. "We're giving a lot of energy and it's just fun right now. We're just really enjoying each other in practice and with the coaches.

"It was a good win."

CU (11-12, 1-11 Pac-12) faces a daunting task Friday to try to make it two in a row, as it visits No. 19 Arizona State (16-6, 7-4). The Sun Devils have won their last nine against the Buffs, including 76-70 in Boulder on Jan. 6, and it's been more than 11 years since CU found a way to beat a ranked team on the road.

At this point in the season, what the Buffs have going for them is the good vibes from the win and the now tangible evidence of the improvement being made by a young group.

"It's almost like a relief for everybody," head coach JR Payne said. "Our players have worked so hard and been in a lot of close games. To have those types of games where you don't come away with the victory is hard and it's hard for such a young group to see the fruits of their labor without the victory. For them, it was just such a joy to get the reward for all of their work. It's been a good week of practice and everybody feels good."

Although wins have been tough to find, the Buffs have seen senior Alexis Robinson develop into a much more consistent force than she's ever been; sophomore Mya Hollingshed be more assertive and polished as a player; and the maturation of freshmen point guard Sila Finau.

Another freshman, reserve guard Emma Clarke, played perhaps her best all-around game on Sunday, with 10 points, three offensive rebounds and three assists.

"I'm getting a little more comfortable," said Clarke, who is from Perth, Australia. "It's still foreign, but I'm definitely settling in a lot better now and trying to find my rhythm."

As a group, the Buffs are finding some rhythm as they've learned to play without star point guard Kennedy Leonard, who hasn't played in five weeks because of a foot injury.

The Buffs are hoping to get a boost from Leonard soon, however. The senior won't play against Arizona State, but could return to the court for a few minutes Sunday at Arizona.

"She's still pretty limited," Payne said. "She's progressing exactly the way the doctor wants her to. She's definitely on her way to being back on the court."

Leonard has averaged 34 minutes per game during her career and is often on the court for 38 or 40 minutes. Because the Buffs — and Finau, in particular — have improved without Leonard, Payne said she won't have to rely on Leonard so much when she returns.

"We won't go to those type of minutes again," Payne said. "Sila has earned the right to be on the floor. The fact that she's gotten so much better makes us a better basketball team, with Kennedy or without Kennedy. We intend that we'll have multiple point guards playing."

For now, the Buffs are still waiting for Leonard to return. Until then, they hope to carry some momentum into Arizona.

"We're really excited to go down and, obviously we're trying to get the wins," Clarke said. "We're just going to do whatever we can, go in there with the right mindset and think back to last week when we won and just do it again."

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