CU women’s basketball: Leonard finds comfort in team despite Buffs’ struggles

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado freshman point guard Kennedy Leonard averages 12.4 points a game but is shooting only 35.4 percent on the season.

CU women’s basketball preview: Oregon

MATCHUP: Oregon Ducks (12-5, 1-5 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (5-12, 0-6).

GAME TIME: Friday, 6 p.m., at Coors Events Center in Boulder.

BROADCAST: Radio — KKZN (760 AM). TV – Pac-12 Network.

COACHES: Colorado – Linda Lappe, sixth year (103-81; 153-117 career); Oregon – Kelly Graves, second year (25-22; 407-184 career).

LEADERS: Colorado – Scoring: F Jamee Swan, Sr., 13.7 ppg; Rebounding: Swan, 7.6 rpg; Assists: G Kennedy Leonard, Fr., 4.8 apg. Oregon – Scoring: F Jillian Alleyne, Sr., 17.8 ppg; Rebounding: Alleyne, 13.5 rpg; Assists: G Maite Cazorla, Fr., 6.4 apg.

NOTABLE: CU is looking to snap a seven-game losing streak, its longest skid in Lappe’s six seasons. … The Buffs are off to a 0-6 start in conference play for the first time in program history. … CU is 7-10 all-time against Oregon and won last year’s lone meeting, 84-69, in Boulder. … Oregon ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring (77.1 ppg), while CU is last in scoring defense (68.9). … Alleyne leads the conference in rebounding and ranks third in scoring.

Coming into her freshman year with the Colorado women’s basketball team, point guard and Texas native Kennedy Leonard never expected that her team would be sitting at 5-12 more than halfway through the season.

Even though she’s had a difficult time adjusting to the losing, Leonard has tried to make the best of it in any way she can.

“I think it’s tough when you lose,” Leonard said. “I’ve never been in a position where I’ve lost this many games ever in my whole basketball career. I
think it’s tough, but at the same time it’s a growing experience.

“I mean, the season’s not over, so hopefully we turn it around in these next couple Pac-12 games. Also, it’s just a learning experience for next year and in the years to follow, so I think that it’s really helpful that even though we’re losing, with each loss we’re learning new things.”

Leonard and the Buffs (0-6 Pac-12) will try to break a seven-game losing streak Friday night when they host Oregon (12-5, 1-5) at the Coors Events Center.

Before her transition to CU, Leonard was touted as the ninth-best high school point guard in the nation, and from Day One that talent was evident in her game. Right out of the gate, in the team’s first matchup of the season against Loyola Marymount, she led the Buffaloes with 18 points, eight assists and five rebounds.

Since then she’s taken a step back from those numbers, but the 5-foot-8 Leonard still contributes 12.4 points per game (second on the team) and 4.8 assists per game.

“I don’t know if I expected (being one of the top scorers) because in high school I wasn’t, like, a huge scorer, I scored probably about 20 a game, but I like to pass probably more than I like to score,” Leonard said. “After the game, I don’t really care about how many points I scored, I always first look to the assists.”

That’s not to say she hasn’t struggled with her shooting form and ball-handling throughout this team’s difficult year, as she’s shooting 35.4 percent on the season and has committed more turnovers than any other player on the team with 61 total.

“From a shooting standpoint, we’ve just really been focusing on a few things,” Colorado assistant coach Jamie Carey said. “One, her balance — when she is on balance, her percentage goes dramatically higher. Overall, I think she’s shown a lot of improvement in that area.”

While defense and making sure her voice is heard on the court have been sticking points this season for Leonard, Carey and the rest of the coaching staff have worked with her to try to instill leadership in the young guard.

“I want her to get us organized offensively, defensively; any type of coverage change, she should make sure everybody knows. The organization on the floor is a really big thing for her, so that’s something we’ve been working on and she’s made great strides on,” Carey said.

“Obviously, she’s a very talented point guard and her best basketball is to come, which is exciting. Continuing to work on her leadership and her voice has come a long ways, just being able to use her voice to get organization on the floor will be important for her moving forward.”

Despite the Buffaloes’ struggles this season, Leonard still finds a reason to smile when it comes to her team.

“I’m happy with where we are, but I’d be even more happy if we were getting wins, and I think we can do it,” she said. “I think in these next couple of games you guys will probably see a different team, especially after the practices we’ve been having.”

Alissa Noe: