• Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado freshman Mya Hollingshed said that the key for success in Pac-12 play is for the Buffs to play their brand of basketball.

  • Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Junior guard Kennedy Leonard is averaging 15.5 points per game to lead Colorado into Pac-12 play.

  • Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado freshman Annika Jank leads the Buffs in rebounding at 8 per contest as the team heads into Pac-12 play this week.



CU women’s basketball preview: Arizona State

MATCHUP: Arizona State Sun Devils (9-3) at Colorado Buffaloes (9-2)

GAME TIME: Friday, 7 p.m., at Coors Events Center in Boulder

BROADCAST: TV – Pac-12 Networks. Radio – KHOW 630 AM

COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 2nd season (26-18 at CU; 127-140 career). ASU – Charli Turner Thorne, 21st season (408-236 at ASU; 448-276 career)

LEADERS: Colorado – Scoring: G Kennedy Leonard, Jr., 15.5 ppg; Rebounding – F Annika Jank, Fr., 8.0 rpg; Assists – Leonard, Jr., 7.0 apg. ASU – Scoring: F Kianna Ibis, Jr., 12.1; Rebounds: C Charnea Chapman-Johnson, Jr., 7.3 rpg; Assists: G Reili Richardson, So., 5.25 apg.

NOTABLE: CU hasn’t won a conference opener since Dec. 31, 2011 – its first-ever Pac-12 game – at Utah. The Buffs have lost five consecutive conference openers. … The Buffs are 1-5 in Pac-12 home openers. … The Buffs are 11-8 all-time against ASU, including 6-4 at home. However, the Buffs have lost six in a row against the Sun Devils and they are 2-8 against them since joining the Pac-12. … Leonard ranks second in the Pac-12 in assists, third in steals (2.7 per game) and seventh in scoring. … ASU’s Sabrina Haines leads the Pac-12 in free throw shooting (86.7 percent, 26-of-30) and Jamie Ruden leads the conference in 3-point shooting (57.7 percent, 15 of 26). … CU ranks third in the Pac-12 in scoring (80.2 points per game), while ASU is second in scoring defense (allowing 52.9 per game). … CU’s plus-11.2 rebounding margin is second in the Pac-12 and their 11.2 steals per game is first.

Ready or not, the Pac-12 schedule has arrived for the Colorado women’s basketball team.

On Friday, the Buffaloes (9-2) will host Arizona State (9-3) in the conference opener at Coors Events Center, looking to get off to a good start in coach JR Payne’s second season.

“I don’t know that you’re ever really ready for Pac-12 play when it’s the best conference in the country and every single night is a really tough opponent,” Payne said, “but that’s why we play the preseason; that’s why we play teams from the ACC at home, on the road. We’ve played athletic teams, we’ve played big teams, we’ve played really disciplined teams. We created a schedule that prepared us – hopefully – for Pac-12 play.”

CU will jump right into the fire against an ASU team that makes annual trips to the NCAA Tournament and finds itself just outside of the Top 25; the Sun Devils collected the 27th-most points in this week’s Associated Press poll.

Coming off a 106-47 win against Division III Westminster (Mo.) College on Dec. 21, the Buffs won’t see anything like that again, as the Pac-12 slate will be a challenge every night.

Four Pac-12 teams are currently ranked in the Top 25, with three others receiving votes.

The schedule actually shapes up fairly well for the Buffs, in that they’ll see No. 10 Oregon and No. 17 Oregon State just once each – and those games are in Boulder – and they’ll see No. 20 California and Stanford (the first team outside of this week’s rankings) just once – both on the road.

They’ll also get No. 11 UCLA twice.

Of course, few games are easy in the Pac-12, especially for a CU program that’s still building.

CU is just 7-29 in conference play the past two seasons, including 5-13 in Payne’s first season in Boulder.

The Buffs have won six or fewer conference games in each of the past four seasons, and will need to get to six this year in order to secure at least a .500 mark – which could land them in the Women’s NIT again.

At times in the non-conference slate, the Buffs looked like a team that could certainly push for six wins, and maybe more. Other times, they looked like a team that could struggle all season.

The Buffs are hoping the better version of their team is what shows up routinely in Pac-12 play.

“We have a good head-start right now,” freshman Mya Hollingshed said after the Buffs’ completed their non-conference slate. “We just have to keep going and just play our brand of basketball. The way we play, we will be in it. We just have to play our brand of basketball.”

At its best, CU rebounds well, plays tenacious defense and creates offense off of that defense.

With junior point guard Kennedy Leonard leading the way, and a strong freshman class headlined by forward Annika Jank, the Buffs are on the right track.

The real test begins Friday, however.

“We’ve done a lot of really good things,” Payne said. “We have areas we can improve and get better always, but we’re ready and excited to see where we are when we step into conference.”

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