Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
CU women’s basketball preview: Arizona State
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (12-17) vs. No. 20 Arizona State (19-9)
GAME TIME: Thursday, 12:30 p.m. MT, at MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Networks. Radio — KHOW 630 AM
COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 3rd season (44-49; 145-162 career). ASU — Charli Turner Thorne, 22nd season (441-255; 481-295 career).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G Quinessa Caylao-Do, Jr., 11.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg; G Lesila Finau, Fr., 3.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.3 apg; G/F Mya Hollingshed, So., 10.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg; G Kennedy Leonard, Sr., 12.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 6.9 apg; G Alexis Robinson, Sr., 12.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg. ASU — G/F Courtney Ekmark, Sr., 10.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg; F Kianna Ibis, Sr., 14.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg; C Charnea Johnson-Chapman, Sr., 5.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg; G Reili Richardson, Jr., 5.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 4.7 apg; G Robbi Ryan, Jr., 7.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg.
NOTABLE: This is first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. The winner will face fourth-seeded UCLA on Friday at 12 p.m. MT. … To reach the postseason, the 12th-seeded Buffs would have to win the tournament this weekend. … Since joining the Pac-12 before the 2011-12 season, the Buffs are 5-2 in first-round tournament games and 6-7 overall in the event. … Fifth-seeded ASU is 5-7 in this tournament, including 2-1 when playing in the first round. … The Buffs went 0-2 against ASU this year and have a 10-game losing streak against the Sun Devils, dating back to Feb. 17, 2013. … Leonard needs 16 points to pass Chucky Jeffery (2009-13) for sixth in CU history in scoring, while Robinson needs seven points to pass Britt Hartshorn (1998-02) for 18th. … No. 12 seeds are 1-7 in this tournament. Arizona was the only No. 12 to win, upsetting UCLA in 2012.
After wrapping up the final practice in Boulder before boarding a plane for Las Vegas on Wednesday, Colorado freshman Emma Clarke was eager for a new experience.
On Thursday, the Buffaloes will face Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena, with hopes of extending their season.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” the 6-foot-1 freshman from Australia said. “I’m sure the other freshmen are, as well. Going out there with all the teams (in the conference), I think it’ll be a good experience and a nice way to wrap up the end of the year.”
For Clarke and the Buffs (12-17), there’s almost no pressure. Coming in as the No. 12 seed in the 12-team tournament, the Buffs aren’t expected to knock off the fifth-seeded and 20th-ranked Sun Devils (19-9), but they’re embracing the role.
“We’ve sort of been the underdog all year for different reasons, so yeah, I think we’re happy to be the underdog,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “We’re playing a great team in Arizona State, but I think we feel good about our chances.”
CU is 0-2 against the Sun Devils this season, but gave them a battle in Boulder on Jan. 6 before falling 76-70. That, however, was the last time the Buffs were fully healthy.
Up to that point, the Buffs were solid with the starting five of seniors Kennedy Leonard and Alexis Robinson, junior Quinessa Caylao-Do, sophomore Mya Hollingshed and freshman Peanut Tuitele. That group started 10 consecutive games, but hasn’t played together since that Jan. 6 meeting with the Sun Devils.
Leonard, who had played that weekend with a foot injury, missed the next 10 games. As she came back, Robinson missed three games with a knee injury. Robinson returned last week — coming off the bench in both games in Los Angeles — but Tuitele missed both with a concussion.
Tuitele will not play in Las Vegas as she continues to recover from her concussion, while Leonard and Robinson will fight on, despite not being 100 percent.
“People have been injured and people are injured, but every team in America has injured players this time of year, so it’s certainly not an excuse,” Payne said. “If you’re going to put on a uniform, you’ve got to be ready to go, and give your best effort emotionally, physically and mentally. That’s the expectation.”
When the Buffs play their best, they are a solid team. While the injuries have certainly contributed to a 12th-place finish, the Buffs have been competitive in most games and have typically displayed the ability to hang with their opponents.
“I told the team two days ago, when I watch our successful possessions and play them back-to-back against our not successful possessions, it’s not what we’re running, it’s how we’re running it,” Payne said.
Payne said the Buffs have to play with good tempo, and that doesn’t necessarily mean a fast-paced, up-and-down game, but running the offense and defense with confidence and precision.
“Playing faster and playing more aggressively,” Payne said.
Having seen Arizona State twice already — the Buffs also lost to the Sun Devils, 66-49, in Tempe, Ariz., on Feb. 15 – helps the Buffs’ younger players. Now, it’s a matter of executing.
“We’re prepared,” Clarke said. “We’ve got Arizona State’s scout down. Everyone is mentally ready, I feel.
“We’re just going to go out there and give it our all. That’s what we’ve been focusing on this week and the whole lead-up. We just want to go out there and show them what we’re made of. We’re just going to come out there and give it our best and hopefully get the wins.”
No. 12 Colorado vs. No. 5 Arizona State, 12:30 p.m.
No. 9 USC vs. No. 8 Arizona, 3 p.m.
No. 10 Washington State vs. No. 7 California, 7 p.m.
No. 11 Washington vs. No. 6 Utah, 9:30 p.m.
Colorado/ASU winner vs. No. 4 UCLA, 12:30 p.m.
USC/Arizona winner vs. No. 1 Oregon, 3 p.m.
Washington State/Cal winner vs. No. 2 Stanford, 7 p.m.
Washington/Utah winner vs. No. 3 Oregon State, 9:30 p.m.
Semifinal No. 1, 7 p.m.
Semifinal No. 2, 9:30 p.m.
6 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2
All times MT; all games on Pac-12 Networks unless noted.