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CU Buffs’ Monica Burich finding her groove after missing last season

Colorado's Monica Burich has become a key player of the bench for coach JR Payne's squad.
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Monica Burich has become a key player of the bench for coach JR Payne’s squad.

CU women’s basketball preview: No. 11 Oregon State

MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (11-7, 1-6) at No. 11 Oregon State Beavers (17-2, 6-1)

GAME TIME: Sunday, 4 p.m. MT, at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, Ore.

BROADCAST: TV – Pac-12 Networks. Radio – ESPN 1600 AM

COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 1st season (11-7 at CU; 112-120 career). Oregon State – Scott Rueck, 7th season (139-77 at OSU; 427-165 career).

LEADERS: Colorado – Scoring: G Kennedy Leonard, So., 18.9 ppg; Rebounding: F Haley Smith, Sr., 5.5 rpg; Assists: Leonard, 5.7 apg. Oregon State – Scoring: G Sydney Wiese, Sr., 15.3 ppg; Rebounding: Marie Gulich, 8.3 rpg; Assists: Wiese, 4.6 apg.

NOTABLE: CU comes into the game with a season-high four-game losing streak. … CU is fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring (74.3 points per game), while Oregon State is second in scoring defense (allowing 54.9 per game). … OSU leads the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage defense (33.3 percent) and is the top 3-point shooting team in the conference, at 39.5 percent. The Beavers are second in rebounding margin, at plus-11.0. … CU leads the conference in steals, with 12.56 per game, and the Buffs are, by far, No. 1 in turnover margin, at plus-6.22. … Leonard ranks third in the Pac-12 in scoring and assists. … Oregon State sits in a three-way tie for first in the Pac-12, along with Washington and Stanford. The Buffs are tied with USC at the bottom of the standings. … Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011-12, CU is 1-28 against ranked conference opponents. The lone win came against OSU in the 2015 conference tournament.

If Monica Burich needs an honest assessment of her improvement as a basketball player, she knows she can always turn to her father, Bob.

“My dad will call me and he’s like, ‘You didn’t look as awkward today when you were playing,'” Burich said with a laugh in remembering that recent “compliment” from her father. “Oh gee, thanks dad.”

Burich, a redshirt freshman for the Colorado women’s basketball team, is happy to take any sign of improvement right now, however, as she adjusts to her first season on the court with the Buffaloes.

A year ago, the native of Roseville, Minn., missed the entire campaign with a torn ACL in her left knee.

This season, the 6-foot-2 forward has been a key player off the bench for the Buffs (11-7, 1-6 Pac-12), who will take on No. 11 Oregon State on Sunday in Corvallis, Ore.

“It’s been so much fun,” she said. “This is such a fun team to play with. Last year was a really tough year, and finally feeling like I’m making an impact, it’s been really cool.”

As an observer last year, Burich felt like she learned a lot about the game, but there has certainly been an adjustment period as she has returned to the court — especially in Pac-12 games.

“There are some very strong people, especially on the inside in the post,” she said. “You can see those people going at it (when watching from the bench), but it’s your own personal experience of getting in there and the physicality of everything. It’s still taking me a little bit to adjust to that, but I feel like I’m improved.”

In head coach JR Payne’s first season in Boulder, the strength of the Buffs is clearly on the perimeter, where guards Kennedy Leonard and Alexis Robinson and wing Haley Smith have thrived this season.

Burich is one of several post players that Payne rotates in and out of the lineup, including Zoe Correal, Zoe Beard-Fails and Bri Watts.

It may be another season before the Buffs really see how good Burich can be, however.

“We’re asking her to play a different position,” Payne said. “In this conference the position we’re asking her to play is extremely physical, extremely tough, extremely strong, extremely athletic. That’s a real challenge for her. I think she’s understanding that more and as time goes one she’s understanding that that’s a really tall task and we wouldn’t ask her to do it if we didn’t think she was capable of doing it.”

Burich has been shooting the ball well this season and is one of the most reliable free throw shooters on the team (15-for-16, 93.8 percent). To truly be a force inside, however, the Buffs want her to add muscle.

“She doesn’t need to get bigger; she just needs to get stronger,” Payne said. “She’ll get significantly stronger (in the offseason) and it’ll be a huge priority.”

Because she was recovering from a knee injury this past offseason, Burich felt she was behind others, in terms of building up her strength.

“This summer and in the future I’m hoping I can really get stronger,” she said. “Learning some strategy and technique with (playing in the post) is something I’ve been working on, as well.”

With the Buffs being a young team, Burich is growing along with the rest of her teammates. The good news is that growth is happening, and Burich can’t wait to see how good she and the Buffs become in the future.

“We all have big goals that we want to accomplish,” she said.

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.