CU women’s basketball takes aim at No. 8 UCLA

Buffs face third top-10 opponent in last 10 days

Colorado’s Lesila Finau tries a layup on USC’s Kyra White during the January 10, 2020 game in Boulder.

So far this week, five of the top 11 teams in the women’s college basketball rankings have lost, including No. 1 Connecticut and No. 2 Oregon.

Four of those teams lost to unranked opponents.

On Sunday, Colorado gets its opportunity to slay a dragon when No. 8 UCLA visits Boulder.

Colorado’s Peanut Tuitele tries to get past USC’s Angel Jackson during the January 10, 2020 game in Boulder.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The Bruins (15-0, 4-0 Pac-12) are one of just two undefeated teams in the country and they are coming off a 30-point margin of victory at Utah on Friday, but the Buffaloes (13-2, 2-2) are playing with confidence.

On Friday, CU knocked off Southern California, 66-53, to kick off a three-game home stand and secure its best 15-game start in seven years.

“We see every game as just an awesome opportunity,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “We’re a really good basketball team and I think our team is finally starting to realize like, ‘Hey, yeah, coach is right; we are pretty good.’”

Whether they are good enough to knock off the elite teams in the Pac-12 is still a question. Last weekend, the Buffs lost by 58 at Oregon and by 12 at No. 3 Oregon State, but did play tough against the Beavers (who join UCLA as the only unbeatens in the country).

UCLA is CU’s third top-10 opponent in a span of 10 days. With No. 5 Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon coming up, the Buffs could potentially play six top-10 opponents within the first 10 games of Pac-12 play.

“What a cool opportunity to play No. 2, No. 3 and now No. 8 – and they could be flip-flopped; they’re all good,” Payne said. “And USC is no different and whoever we play next week – Utah – is also good. So we just relish the opportunity.”

Payne said she doesn’t need to point out the upsets of UConn, Oregon and others to motivate her team for Sunday’s date with the Bruins.

“I don’t think this team needs a lot of external motivation,” she said. “I think they come ready to go pretty much every day and every night that we play, which is awesome. I don’t have to Jedi mind trick anybody into getting ready, but we’re prepared and ready for the rest of season.”

Payne’s team wasn’t prepared for the visit to Oregon on Jan. 3, and it showed in the blowout loss. How the Buffs responded to that loss, by battling Oregon State and knocking off USC, suggests they got that scared feeling out of their system that night.

To this point, the Buffs have played better than outsiders expected, and they take confidence into Sunday’s game, even if it is against a highly ranked opponent.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it and I think the rest of our team is really excited,” said sophomore Emma Clarke, who had 13 points in the win against USC. “We went down to UCLA last year at home, but you know, it was a close game (a 64-60 UCLA win), so I think we’re going to come out and give it everything we have.”

CU women’s basketball preview: UCLA

MATCHUP: No. 8 UCLA Bruins (15-0, 4-0 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (13-2, 2-2 Pac-12)

GAME TIME: Sunday, Noon, CU Events Center in Boulder

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

COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 4th season (57-52; 158-165 career). UCLA – Cori Close, 9th season (187-99).

LEADERS: Colorado  – Scoring: F Mya Hollingshed, Jr., 13.0 ppg; Rebounding: G Aubrey Knight, So., 6.9 rpg; Assists – G Jaylyn Sherrod, Fr., 5.5 apg. UCLA – Scoring: F Michaela Onyenwere, Jr., 18.9 ppg; Rebounds: Onyenwere, 7.8 rpg; Assists: G Japreece Dean, Sr., 5.5 apg.

NOTABLE: The Buffs are aiming for a second consecutive victory after knocking off Southern California, 66-53, on Friday. Senior Quinessa Caylao-Do and sophomore Emma Clarke both had 13 points in the victory. … CU hasn’t won back-to-back conference games since sweeping the Washington schools in Boulder Feb. 16-18, 2018. … CU is off to a 13-2 start for the first time since 2012-13. … UCLA leads the all-time series 13-5, including 6-2 in Boulder. The Bruins have won eight in a row against the Buffs. … The Buffs have lost 27 in a row to Associated Press Top 25 teams, dating back to a 79-69 upset of No. 15 Kentucky on Nov. 19, 2016. … Since an upset of No. 8 Oregon State in the 2015 Pac-12 Tournament, the Buffs have lost 14 in a row top-10 teams. … Onyenwere starred at Grandview High School in Aurora before going to UCLA. She was a three-time Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year. … UCLA is off to the best start in program history and the Bruins have opened conference play at 4-0 for the first time since 2012-13.