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CU Buffs women ready to tackle Pac-12 tourney

No. 10 seed Buffs open against No. 7 seed USC

Colorado's Mya Hollingshed gets to a rebound on the Stanford  game in Boulder.
(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Mya Hollingshed gets to a rebound on the Stanford game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

On paper, the Colorado women’s basketball team looks like a one-and-done participant in this week’s Pac-12 Tournament.

The Buffaloes, however, are hoping for an extended stay at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.

Tenth-seeded CU (16-13, 5-13 Pac-12) will face No. 7 USC (16-13, 8-10) in the first round on Thursday at 7 p.m. MT. Despite their low seed, the Buffs find themselves in a situation they like.

“We know we’re capable of being successful against these teams and I think we know what it takes and we know what we need to do,” head coach JR Payne said.

In the eight-year history of the event, No. 10 seeds are 2-8 overall with six first-round exits. (CU owns one of those wins, in 2012).

This CU team, however, has spent the past few months building up some confidence, if not always victories, and it faces a familiar foe.

The Buffs are 1-1 against USC, having lost to the Trojans on Sunday in Los Angeles in one of their worst performances of the Pac-12 season. They beat the Trojans, 66-53, in Boulder on Jan. 10.

“I really believe we will beat USC,” Payne said. “I know that we’re capable. I also know that they’re capable. When we go back and watch the film from Sunday, there’s so many things we should have and could have done more effectively. I think our team sees that.”

Should the Buffs get past USC, they would face second-seeded UCLA, which beat the Buffs twice – including last Friday – but both games were competitive down to the wire.

The third round could pit CU against third-seeded Stanford, which needed last-second shots to beat the Buffs twice.

“We’re in a really good position and I think we’re all really excited for it and excited to play on Thursday,” sophomore Aubrey Knight said.

Of course, playing close games with the opposition doesn’t mean the Buffs will turn those into victories in Las Vegas. But, being oh-so-close has provided the Buffs with confidence.

“(We have to) think about what can we do now if we were to have those opportunities again moving forward and winning those games,” Knight said.

Throughout the season, CU has had several players, including Knight, Mya Hollingshed, Jaylyn Sherrod, Emma Clarke and others rise up and play well. If multiple Buffs step up on the same night, Payne likes CU’s chances.

“We just need to play good basketball,” Payne said. “We need to execute, we need to rebound the way we’re capable of rebounding. We need to be able to knock down shots.”

Going into the tournament, regular season Pac-12 champion Oregon (28-2, 17-1) is the overwhelming favorite. The third-ranked Ducks were tripped up at Arizona State on Jan. 10, giving up a big second half lead, but they’ve been almost untouchable. Oregon has won 16 in a row, nine of those by 26-plus points.

“I do think they are the best team in America,” Payne said. “I don’t really see anybody beating them, but again, there’s been a lot of upsets already throughout Pac-12 play.”

In addition to ASU’s upset of Oregon, this season has seen CU and last-place Cal both upset 13th-ranked Arizona; ninth-place Washington knocking off 8th-ranked UCLA; USC upsetting both UCLA and 14th-ranked Oregon State; and eighth-place Utah upsetting No. 24 ASU.

“I think teams have proven time and time again that pretty much anything can happen in this conference,” Payne said.

CU has put a scare into several of the Pac-12’s elite teams this season. Now, the Buffs hope they can take their young roster into Las Vegas and stick around a few days.

“Tournament play is always the most fun part of the season,” Knight said. “I think everyone is really excited. I think there can be different emotions and feelings about going into tournament play, but we just have to remember it’s just another game.”

CU women’s basketball preview: Southern California

MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (16-13, 5-13 Pac-12) at Southern California Trojans (16-13, 8-10)

GAME TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. MT, at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.

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

COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 4th season (60-63; 161-176 career). USC – Mark Trakh, 8th season (143-101; 446-304 career).

LEADERS: Colorado  – Scoring: F Mya Hollingshed, Jr., 13.1 ppg; Rebounding: Hollingshed, 6.9 rpg; Assists – G Jaylyn Sherrod, Fr., 5.1 apg. USC – Scoring: F Alissa Pili, Fr., 16.2 pg; Rebounds: Pili, 8.1 rpg; Assists: G Desiree Caldwell, So., 3.2 apg.

NOTABLE: This is the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, with CU as the 10th seed and USC at No. 7. … The winner will face second-seeded UCLA on Friday at 7 p.m. MT. … CU is 6-8 all-time in this event, including 5-3 in the first round. … No. 10 seeds are 2-8 in this event, with one of those victories by CU, 55-41 against Utah in 2012. … USC is 7-7 in this event and won the tournament title in 2014. … CU and USC split their two-game series this year, with the Buffs winning, 66-53, in Boulder on Jan. 10, and USC winning, 66-55, on Sunday in Los Angeles. … For the first time in tournament history, six Pac-12 teams are nationally ranked going into the event: No. 3 Oregon, No. 7, Stanford, No. 8 UCLA, No. 13 Arizona, No. 14 Oregon State, No. 24 Arizona State.

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