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Building momentum key for CU lacrosse in regular season finale at Oregon

  • Colorado head coach Ann Elliott Whidden and the Buffs play...

    Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Colorado head coach Ann Elliott Whidden and the Buffs play Oregon on Friday night in the regular season finale.

  • Colorado''s Samantha Nemirov and the Buffs are focused on Oregon...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado''s Samantha Nemirov and the Buffs are focused on Oregon before turning their attention to the Pac-12 tourney.

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No. 23 Colorado women’s lacrosse at Oregon Ducks

GAME TIME: Friday, 8 p.m. MT, Pape Field, Eugene, Ore.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network.

RECORDS: Colorado 8-6, 7-2 Pac-12 Conference; Oregon 3-13, 1-8.

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — A Miranda Stinson, Sr., 51 goals, 12 assists; A Samantha Nemirov, Sr., 37 goals, 12 assists; GK Julia Lisella, Jr., .489 save percentage, 9.27 goals-against average. Oregon — A Shannon Williams, Sr., 34 goals, 24 assists; MF Jamie Level, Fr., 20 goals, five assists; GK Rachel Hall, Fr., .498 save percentage, 13.81 goals-against average.

NOTES: Since putting together a 2-2 start the Ducks have lost 11 of 12 games, including a 15-6 loss at CU on March 23. Stinson (five) and Nemirov (4) combined for nine of CU’s goals in that win…The Buffs are 9-0 all-time against Oregon…In league games, CU ranks first in the Pac-12 in goals per game (13.44) and second in goals-against average (8.62)…The Buffs will return home after the match but will make a return trip to Eugene for the start of the Pac-12 tournament, which opens Thursday.

A third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament remains within reach for the Colorado women’s lacrosse team. But it will be a difficult road to get there, and it almost certainly requires a Buffaloes victory Friday in the regular-season finale at Oregon.

“We’re just focused on one game at a time,” CU coach Ann Elliott Whidden said. “I think every game for us in April is so huge. Not just for conference seeding, but for overall where we at with our resume if we hope to make the NCAA Tournament. We know we have a lot of work to do in that. The game at Oregon on Friday is huge for us, both conference-wise and general implications in our season in extending it.”

A win by the 23rd-ranked Buffs against a struggling Oregon team would be an advantageous one for CU, as it would secure second-place and a first-round bye during next week’s return trip to Eugene for the Pac-12 Conference tournament.

Requiring one less win to win a championship always is a welcome benefit, but in the Buffs’ case it is particularly helpful because winning that Pac-12 tournament championship might be the only road into the NCAA Tournament. CU begins the week at No. 22 in the RPI rankings, and even a run to the Pac-12 title game likely wouldn’t improve that mark significantly enough for an at-large invitation to the 26-team NCAA Tournament.

“In terms of the tournament, any time you can get a bye it’s great,” Whidden said. “If we get it, that will be great and we’ll get an extra day. If we don’t, we’ll be ready to go Thursday. I think for us and this team, we’ve had a lot of injuries and different things go on. Having an extra day to prepare and make sure we’re healthy is always great.”

In Oregon, the Buffs complete the regular season against a foe that has struggled in Pac-12 play and suffered a nine-goal loss in Boulder last month. CU still had a shot at a share of the regular-season title until a stunning overtime loss at home last week against Stanford, though the Buffs bounced back to top Cal in the home finale Sunday.

While a tough schedule has left CU on the outside looking in at the current the NCAA tourney picture, the Buffs also understand only five goals separated them from potential victories in three of those battles against ranked foes — Michigan, Denver, and Stanford. The Buffs have split their season series against USC and Stanford and will be one of the favorites in the league tournament provided they can continue gathering momentum at Oregon.

“Obviously our focus right now is this game against Oregon. We’ve got to go in there and take care of business,” senior attacker Samantha Nemirov said. “Then our focus will shift to the Pac-12 tournament, and whoever we’re matched up against we’ll be ready.”

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07