As Emma Clarke, Peanut Tuitele, Mya Hollingshed and others kept hitting shots and whittling away at UCLA’s huge lead on Sunday, the energy level and volume in CU Events Center kept rising.
The arena wasn’t close to full, but the crowd of 2,808 was a season high for the Buffs and the atmosphere was the best it’s been in a long time for a women’s game in Boulder.
The Buffaloes (13-3, 2-3 Pac-12) lost the game on a last-second missed shot against the seventh-ranked Bruins, but they made it clear that winning in Boulder won’t be easy for the opposition.
“It’s extremely important,” CU head coach JR Payne said of protecting the home court. “Road wins are so tough to come by, in any conference and certainly the Pac-12, so it’s important that we play well (at home).”
On Friday, CU will conclude a three-game home stand when Utah (8-8, 1-4) visits Boulder. The Buffs come into the game with a 7-1 record on their home floor this season.
Payne, however, knows that simply being at home doesn’t guarantee success.
“It’s really important that we understand that two years ago, we beat Utah at their place and they beat us at our place,” Payne said. “Just playing at home is great and comfortable, but it certainly doesn’t make anything easier. We just need to play like a basketball team and play the way we’re capable of playing.”
Against UCLA, the Buffs got away from their game for a while. A 19-0 UCLA run put the Buffs in a 25-point hole. During the last 12 minutes, 24 seconds , however, the Buffs outscored the Bruins 33-11.
“You can see we’re just as good as them when we’re hitting on all cylinders,” Tuitele said, “but we have to play as a team on the court. We don’t work well as individuals.”
Teamwork helped the Buffs to an 80-70 win against Utah in Salt Lake City on Dec. 29, and they’ll look to repeat that feat on Friday.
“The good thing is, our team already knows them, so when we talk about their personnel, they already know who does what,” Payne said. “So, for a young team to feel confident in that I think is good for us.”
Utah will make adjustments from the previous meeting, of course, and the Buffs will hope to counter those adjustments. The Utes are also coming in with a bit of confidence after knocking off Southern California on Sunday.
“They’re going to have a lot of fire and drive and especially trying to beat us on our home turf, so we have to try to protect it and get another win,” CU freshman Charlotte Whittaker said. “Obviously we know we can do it, but it’s just making sure we do everything right and treating it like it’s just any other game and not trying to pre-think what’s going to happen. We’ve got to put all of our focus into that.”
While the Buffs focus on trying to get another win, Payne is hoping that CU’s success to this point, and the thrilling atmosphere last Sunday, leads to bigger and louder crowds Friday and in future games at the Events Center.
“I think people appreciate good basketball,” she said. “This is a community that historically has loved basketball. There’s tremendous support at all the men’s games right now and our support is growing. We had a big crowd Sunday. They come and watch us play and see, ‘Holy cow, these guys are good,’ and we play with tremendous effort, we play with a lot of toughness, we play the game in a way that I think people appreciate from an effort standpoint.
“As a mother, I love that my own children come and see us diving on the floor and see our camaraderie. I hope that when people come, they continue to come back because it is good basketball.”
CU women’s basketball preview: Utah
MATCHUP: Utah Utes (8-8, 1-4 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (13-3, 2-3 Pac-12)
GAME TIME: Friday, 6:30 p.m., CU Events Center in Boulder
BROADCAST: TV – Pac-12 Networks. Radio – 630 AM
COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 4th season (57-53; 158-166 career). Utah – Lynne Roberts, 5th season (80-62; 215-206 career).
LEADERS: Colorado – Scoring: F Mya Hollingshed, Jr., 13.3 ppg; Rebounding: G Hollingshed, 6.9 rpg; Assists – G Jaylyn Sherrod, Fr., 5.5 apg. Utah – Scoring: F Lola Pendande, Fr., 11.9 ppg; Rebounds: Pendande, 5.8 rpg; Assists: G Dru Gylten, So., 5.1 apg.
NOTABLE: CU is looking to rebound from a 65-62 loss to No. 7 UCLA on Sunday in Boulder. Hollingshed had 17 points and CU rallied from a 25-point deficit to have a chance at the win in the final seconds. … The Buffs are aiming for a season sweep of the Utes after defeating them 80-70 in Salt Lake City on Dec. 29. Sherrod had 19 points and 10 assists in that game. … CU is seeking its first regular season sweep of a Pac-12 opponent since going 2-0 against Washington in 2017-18. … The all-time series is tied 18-18, with CU holding a 9-6 record against the Utes in Boulder. The Buffs swept the Utes in 2013 and 2015. … Utah snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday with a 67-65 win against Southern California in Salt Lake City. Daneesha Provo had 17 points to lead the Utes. … CU is 7-1 at home this season, while Utah is 1-4 on the road.