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CU Buffs women showing signs of growth this season

Colorado aiming for sixth Pac-12 win with USC in town

BOULDER, CO - Dec. 14, 2020: ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s head coach JR Payne and Peanut Tuitele at the CU Events Center in Boulder on Dec. 14, 2020. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The Pac-12 might be the toughest conference in women’s basketball and over the years it hasn’t been easy on the Colorado Buffaloes.

So far this season, however, the Buffs are finding more success in the conference and proving to be a difficult opponent.

On Friday, CU (7-9, 5-8 Pac-12) will host Southern California (9-7, 7-6) at CU Events Center with a chance to pick up its sixth conference win – something the Buffs haven’t done in six years.

While the Buffs have a losing record and sit ninth in the standings, the improvement is evident on the court and in the results. This is CU’s best record through the first 13 games of Pac-12 play since the 2012-13 season.

“I do think we’re actually playing really pretty well, all things considered,” CU head coach JR Payne said.

Of course, the record could be better, as it includes four losses by four points or less –with three of those in Pac-12 games. Each of CU’s last four losses have come by eight points or less, including a 56-52 loss at USC on Jan. 11.

Still, given the challenge of navigating through the coronavirus pandemic and dealing with injuries to key players, Payne is pleased with the Buffs’ improvement this season.

“We have a lot of players that don’t really practice a lot (because of injuries),” Payne said. “We’re asking them to play in games and play in different roles and things like that.

“There’s so many games that we should have, in my opinion, won, so that’s frustrating but I do really like how we’re playing. I think, even in some of these closer games, we’ve played pretty well and done some really good things and I think our ball club’s really learning. We’re able to have sort of higher IQ conversations with the whole group about things that we should have done differently here and there. … I love that about this group; they seem to be really growing.”

In terms of wins in Pac-12 play, Payne would like the see more rapid growth, but this year has provided signs of maturity and improvement.

“I think about how young everyone still is,” Payne said. “I think our team is learning a lot and in order to just survive this COVID season, you have to be a pretty mature and resilient group.”

New-look USC

CU will see a different version of USC than it saw a month ago in Los Angeles. At that time, the Trojans were missing three key players to injury: Alissa Pili, Alyson Miura and Shalexxus Aaron.

That trio combined for 43 points, nine rebounds and four assists in an 81-71 win at Washington State on Sunday.

Pili, the 2019-20 Pac-12 freshman of the year, was eased back into the lineup, but has averaged 17.5 points and 4.5 rebounds the past two games. USC has won three in a row.

“Very different team (than last month),” Payne said. “Pili is one of the best players in the league as freshmen of the year and she’s also getting more and more comfortable. So, she’s not just back but she’s playing really well.

“They’ve added some depth. At elevation we would always prefer our opponents not have a lot of depth, but they’ve added those pieces and that’ll really help them.”

Schedule update

The Buffs have had four games postponed this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Payne said, “I don’t think they’ll happen.”

CU has had home games with Arizona State (Dec. 20) and Oregon (Jan. 31) postponed, along with road dates with UCLA (Jan. 8) and Arizona (Jan. 24). Payne said the Pac-12 has told coaches, “If you want to make up the game, figure it out.”

So far, none of the other coaches have made efforts to contact Payne about make-up dates. Payne contacted ASU coach Charli Turner-Thorne, who wasn’t interested in bringing her team back to Boulder. The Sun Devils already absorbed the cost of a trip to Boulder in December, only to have the game canceled a couple hours before tipoff.

Payne said in a year like this, “I don’t fault anybody” for games being lost. She added there’s a chance that a game could get made up in Las Vegas next month when all the teams converge for the Pac-12 tournament, but it’s also possible none of them are played.

“It’s disappointing that we’re not going to be able to get to play the full slate of games but there’s simply not enough time and too many cancellations,” she said.

CU Buffs women’s basketball vs. Southern California Trojans

TIPOFF: Friday, 6 p.m., at CU Events Center in Boulder

BROADCAST: Online – CUBuffs.com/watchwbb. Radio – 630 AM

RECORDS: Colorado 7-9 (5-8 Pac-12); USC 9-7 (7-6 Pac-12)

COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 5th season (67-73; 168-186 career). USC – Mark Trakh, 9th season (153-109; 456-312 career)

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado – G Sila Finau, 5-9, Jr. (5.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.2 apg); G Frida Formann, 6-0, Fr. (11.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg); F Mya Hollingshed, 6-3, Sr. (16.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg); G Aubrey Knight, 6-0, Jr. (5.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg); F Peanut Tuitele, 6-1, Jr. (7.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg). USC – G Desiree Caldwell, 5-8, Jr. (7.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg; 3.2 apg); C Angel Jackson, 6-5, So. (9.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.4 bpg); G/F Amaya Oliver, 6-2, Fr. (6.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg); F Alissa Pili, 6-0, So. (9.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg); G Endyia Rogers, 5-7, So. (17.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.8 apg); F Jordan Sanders, 5-11, Sr. (13.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg).

NOTES: CU snapped a three-game losing streak with a 67-52 win at California on Sunday. Formann had a career-high 25 points to lead the Buffs. … The Buffs are 6-3 at home this season. … Knight has missed the last two games with injury and hasn’t been able to practice, but the Buffs are hopeful she’ll be available to play this weekend. … USC leads the all-time series, 15-8, including a 3-1 record against the Buffs in the last two years. USC beat CU, 56-52, on Jan. 11 in Los Angeles. Peanut Tuitele had 15 points for CU, while Mya Hollingshed had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Jordan Sanders led USC with 16 points. … USC has won three in a row, including 81-71 at Washington State on Sunday. Rogers had 22 points and eight rebounds in that win. … The Trojans swept the Washington schools last weekend to get their first road wins of the year. … After an 0-4 start to Pac-12 play, the Trojans are 7-2 in their last nine conference games.