CU women’s basketball preview: Utah
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (14-15, 5-13 Pac-12) vs. Utah Utes (17-12, 8-10)
GAME TIME: Thursday, 12:30 p.m. MT, at Key Arena in Seattle
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Networks. Radio — KVCU 1190 AM
COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 2nd season (31-31 at CU; 132-144 career). Utah — Lynne Roberts, 3rd season (51-42 at Utah; 272-217 career).
LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G Kennedy Leonard, Jr., 14.8 ppg; Rebounding: F Annika Jank, Fr., 6.9 rpg; Assists: Leonard, Jr., 6.7 apg. Utah — Scoring: F Megan Huff, Jr., 14.5 ppg; Rebounding: Huff, 7.9 rpg; Assists: G Erika Bean, Jr., 5.3 apg.
NOTABLE: This is the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. … The winner will play No. 1 seed Oregon on Friday at 12:30 p.m. MT. … CU is 5-6 all-time at the Pac-12 tournament. The Buffs are seeded No. 9 or lower for the sixth time in seven years. … Both teams come in having lost two in a row. … During the regular season, the Buffs and Utes split their series. CU beat the Utes, 69-65, in Salt Lake City on Feb. 1, while Utah got the win in Boulder, 78-74, on Feb. 4.
Going into the Pac-12 tournament as the No. 9 seed, the Colorado women’s basketball team isn’t expected to last long in Seattle.
From experience, senior Brecca Thomas knows anything is possible.
“It’s always exciting to go to the Pac-12 tourney and Seattle is a pretty place,” she said. “It’s always good and it’s anyone’s game in the Pac-12 tournament.”
CU (14-15, 5-13 Pac-12) will take on No. 8-seeded Utah (17-12, 8-10) in the first round of the tournament on Thursday at Key Arena, and the Buffs would love to repeat their performance from 2015.
That year, the last time the Buffs were the No. 9 seed, they knocked off No. 8 USC in the first round and then upset No. 1 Oregon State in the quarterfinals.
“That was one of the most fun games of my career (against Oregon State) because everyone went into that game that year with no fear,” said Thomas, who was a freshman that season. “You had nothing to lose. It was a ‘why not?’ mentality.
“This game (against Utah), it’s like, ‘Why not?’ Why not give it all you’ve got for this one game? And if it leads to the next game, give it all you’ve got for that game.”
As an underdog, the Buffs don’t have much to lose, but they have plenty to gain. They need to reach the .500 mark to be eligible for the Women’s NIT, and the only way to do that is to get two wins this week.
“If you want it to happen, you have to believe it will happen,” junior point guard Kennedy Leonard said. “So I think the mindset with all of us is that we’re going to go in and play as hard as we can and we all believe in whoever is to the right or left of us. That’s the biggest thing. We know we’re playing well right now and we all feel really good about it.”
While the Buffs have lost five of their last seven games, they’ve played tough, competitive basketball for the past few weeks, taking some of the league’s best teams down to the wire.
“We’re playing hard and really playing together, playing for each other,” head coach JR Payne said. “I would rather take a team I can trust to play hard and play tough and play together.”
They’ll need to continue that Thursday, and rebounding will be a key against the Utes, who rank among the top rebounding teams in the Pac-12.
The Buffs also need several players to step up their game, including Leonard, who had a career-high 31 points in a win against the Utes on Feb. 1.
This season, Leonard has established a new school record for assists (195), breaking her record from last year. She’s also moved up to No. 2 on CU’s career list for assists and No. 15 on the scoring list.
At this stage of the season, however, the only number that concerns Leonard is: 0. She’s 0-2 at this tournament wants to change that.
“Being able to keep moving up on all the (individual) lists is pretty cool, but I would rather take wins, so hopefully we can go into the tournament and get some wins,” she said.
So far, her stays in Seattle have been too short. She’d love to stick around a bit longer this time.
“I’m hoping until Sunday,” she said with a smile.
Pac-12 women’s tournament
Thursday, All games on Pac-12 Network
Utah vs. Colorado, 12:30 p.m.
California vs. Washington, 3 p.m.
Southern Cal vs. Washington State, 7 p.m.
Arizona State vs. Arizona, 9:30 p.m.
Oregon vs. Utah-Colorado winner, 12:30 p.m.
UCLA vs. California-Washington winner, 3 p.m.
Stanford vs. Southern Cal-Washington State winner, 7 p.m.
Oregon State vs. Arizona State-Arizona winner, 9:30 p.m.
Semifinals, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.