CU women’s basketball preview: Oregon
MATCHUP: Oregon Ducks (18-9, 8-7 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (14-12, 4-11 Pac-12)
GAME TIME: Sunday, Noon, at Coors Events Center
BROADCAST: TV – Pac-12 Networks. Radio – KVCU 1190 AM
COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 1st season (14-12 at CU; 115-125 career). Oregon – Kelly Graves, 3rd season (55-37 at Oregon; 482-239 career).
LEADERS: Colorado – Scoring: G Kennedy Leonard, So., 17.8 ppg; Rebounding: F Haley Smith, Sr., 6.3 rpg; Assists: Leonard, 5.7 apg. Oregon – Scoring: F Ruthy Hebard, Fr., 14.6 ppg; Rebounding: Hebard, 8.7 rpg; Assists: G Sabrina Ionescu, Fr., 5.9 apg.
NOTABLE: CU is 7-13 all-time against Oregon, including 3-5 in Boulder. … The Ducks on the first meeting, 71-66, on Jan. 20 in Eugene. Leonard had 21 points for the Buffs, while Hebard had 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Ducks. … Leonard is fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring, tied for third in assists and tied for first in steals (2.5 per game). … Three Buffs – Leonard, Smith (2.1) and Alexis Robinson (1.9) rank in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in steals per game. CU leads the conference with 11.5 steals per game as a team. … In Pac-12 play, Ionescu has averaged 14.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists. She leads the conference in assists and is top 12 in scoring and rebounds. … Since joining the Pac-12, CU is 4-1 on Senior Day and has won its last two Senior Day games.
Lauren Huggins won’t be in the starting lineup on Sunday when the Colorado women’s basketball team hosts Oregon at Coors Events Center.
In fact, if the senior wing does play, it’ll likely be for just a few minutes.
For Huggins, that’s enough.
After a bumpy path through college basketball that has concluded with an injury-plagued final season, she is looking forward to donning that No. 24 jersey one last time in front of the home crowd.
“Basketball has always been a big part of my life, but it’s going to be a good opportunity for some closure,” she said.
Huggins is one of four seniors that will be honored on Sunday, along with Zoe Beard-Fails, Haley Smith and Bri Watts.
The only in-state product on the roster at CU (14-12, 4-11 Pac-12), Huggins has played just 14 minutes in three games this season. She missed the first 23 games of the year before making her debut on Feb. 10.
In a way, her career has come full circle.
The 6-foot-2 Huggins is a 3-point specialist who is only playing this year — her fifth at CU — because she missed the bulk of her freshman year, in 2012-13, with a stress fracture. She was granted a medical hardship by the NCAA for that season.
In the three years between, Huggins often thrilled the Buff faithful with her ability to knock down a big shot — often beyond the 3-point arc. She had her best season a year ago, starting 17 of her 26 games, while scoring 7.2 points per game and becoming a better defender.
Huggins was looking to take the next step as a senior, but it was literally in the final minutes of the final workout of the summer that her plans changed.
Huggins’ left kneecap has always been prone to partial dislocation, and in that last workout, she suffered a kneecap subluxation that knocked cartilage off from around her femur. She’s been dealing with cartilage damage and a bone bruise ever since.
“I don’t think in the beginning I thought it would be too serious,” she said. “I’ve dealt with this happening in my knee before, but it had never been this severe.”
Like stress fractures, Huggins said, the main method of recovery is rest.
“All you can really do for that is take time, and unfortunately time was not in my favor,” she said.
Throughout the fall and winter, Huggins and the Buffs were hopeful for a relatively quick return to the court. That was not in the cards for Huggins, but she never gave up hope.
“There were times I definitely didn’t think I would make it back onto the court,” she said, “so I kind of just came to terms with that and became the biggest cheerleader and the best cheerleader that I could be and continued to be compliant with all my rehab and came in and worked with (team trainer Takamasa Sakamoto) every day.”
Despite not being able to play for much of this season, Huggins has left a lasting impression on her teammates and first-year head coach JR Payne.
“She’s one of the most selfless players I’ve ever coached,” Payne said. “She hasn’t had a single day that she came in with a bad attitude.”
Smith said she knows Huggins has had discouraging days, but praised her fellow senior for the positive attitude she has brought to the team all year and the advice she often offers from the bench.
“She’s really stayed engaged and not drifted to the side, which could be easy to do,” Smith said. “I know, for me, it’s been really helpful.”
As far as Huggins was concerned, there was no reason to get negative about something out of her control. She said she focused on what she could control.
Really, that’s been her approach throughout much of her career. An all-state player at Heritage High School, Huggins didn’t have the basketball success at CU she envisioned for herself, but she has no regrets as her career comes to a close.
“I wouldn’t change the people I’ve met, the relationships I’ve built, the education that I’ve gotten, and being able to be in my home town and always having my parents in the stands,” she said. “Overall, my college experience, even with basketball, has been pretty top notch.”
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.