Ariana Freeman among new faces as CU Buffs women’s basketball opens at UNC

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado s Ariana Freeman will debut for the Buffs today after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.

CU women’s basketball preview: Northern Colorado

MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (7-23 in 2015-16) at Northern Colorado Bears (13-16).

GAME TIME: Friday, 7 p.m., Bank of Colorado Arena, Greeley.

BROADCAST: Radio — 1190 AM in Boulder; 1600 AM in Denver. TV — none.

COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, first season (101-113 overall); UNC — Kamie Ethridge, third season (35-29 at UNC and overall).

LEADERS (top returning players): Colorado — Scoring: G Kennedy Leonard, So., 12.1 ppg; Rebounding: F Haley Smith, Sr., 5.7 rpg; Assists: Leonard, 4.6 apg. UNC — Scoring: G Savannah Scott, Jr., 9.5 ppg; Rebounding: Scott, 4.9 rpg; Assists: G Katie Longwell, Sr., 3.2 apg.

NOTABLE: Payne makes her debut as CU’s leader after going 34-27 in two seasons at Santa Clara. Previously Payne went 67-86 in five seasons at Southern Utah…CU has won 16 consecutive season openers…The Buffs posted a 63-41 win at home against UNC a year ago. Smith paced CU with 15 points and seven rebounds…The Buffs play Air Force in their home opener Sunday at 2 p.m.

Ariana Freeman isn’t shy in front of a microphone or camera. And so she is one of the least likely players to suffer any pangs of stage fright when the lights are turned on for the University of Colorado women’s basketball team Friday night.

Just like first-year head coach JR Payne, Freeman is set to make her CU debut Friday night when the new-look Buffaloes open the 2016-17 season at Northern Colorado.

Freeman transferred to Colorado after appearing in 19 games as a true freshman in 2014-15 for a Louisville squad that eventually reached the Sweet 16. Per NCAA transfer rules, Freeman practiced with the Buffs last year but was ineligible.

“I’m super excited,” said Freeman, a 5-foot-9 guard from Manassas, Va. “I spent all last year just practicing, getting up shots, sitting on the bench watching the team play and not being able to go to battle with them.”

Freeman is quick to cite CU’s broadcast journalism program as a primary reason why she chose Colorado while looking for a new basketball home, and even while ineligible last year she became quite adept at performing in front of a crowd at the Coors Events Center. Freeman made great use of her down time from basketball, frequently appearing as the on-air talent for in-house BuffVision videos during men’s basketball games.

The pursuit of a broadcasting career was one big draw for Freeman. The other was that her mother grew up in Colorado, and Freeman has plenty of relatives in the area ready to cheer her on as she resumes her playing career

“I wanted to go somewhere where I could get my career started, and also somewhere where I had that family element but I wouldn’t be smothered,” Freeman said. “My mom’s family is out here, and so I have a place to get some food, some laundry done.

“I think there is a comfort level (from broadcasting) coming from being able to sit back and watch the game, talk about the game and kind of break down pieces of the game. When I step on the court, I can see what happens when someone gets trapped. I see what happens when someone plays man. It kind of builds up my confidence with the game a little more.”

Freeman will be just one of the new faces set to hit the floor for the Buffs in Payne’s debut. Payne inherits a team short on size and depth, yet one that boasts a promising level of young talent highlighted by sophomore guards Kennedy Leonard and Alexis Robinson. Redshirt freshman Monica Burich expects to make her debut after missing last year due to a knee injury, and freshman guard Quinessa Caylao-Do could emerge as part of the mix as well.

“For us, we’ve always loved to have one of our best players coming off the bench. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do that this year,” Payne said. “A kid like Haley (Smith) for us would be awesome to come off the bench, because she gives such great effort and can play two through five.

“Really it will be about getting into a great, quick start and playing off whoever is playing well and giving us great effort at the beginning of the game.”

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