Visiting Pullman, Wash., hasn’t often been a pleasant experience for the Colorado Buffaloes.
“In any sport,” CU women’s basketball coach JR Payne said. “It’s not friendly to the Buffs.”
Since joining the Pac-12, the CU football team is 1-3 in Pullman and has been blown out in its last three trips; the women’s soccer team is 2-3; the volleyball team is 3-7 with five straight losses, including two last weekend; and the men’s basketball team is 3-4 after snapping a three-game losing streak there last month.
The Palouse has been especially cruel to the women’s basketball program, however, and Payne is hopeful the Buffs can turn that around this weekend.
CU (8-9, 6-8 Pac-12) visits Washington State (9-9, 7-9) on Friday afternoon with plenty on the line, including a seven-game losing streak at the Cougars’ Beasley Coliseum. CU is 1-7 there since joining the Pac-12, last winning on Jan. 7, 2012, 57-56.
“I don’t know what it is (about Pullman),” Payne said. “We’re determined to make this a great trip, though.”
Making this a great trip – the Buffs are also slated to visit Washington on Sunday – would be monumental for CU as it aims to climb in the conference standings and make a push for the NCAA Tournament.
“It is a huge, huge opportunity,” Payne said. “Every time we play it’s an opportunity. That’s why some of those games that we feel like we should have won, I just can’t let them go because it would have been … you just win the games that we thought we should have won, we’re actually really doing well in the standings.”
Certainly there have been missed opportunities for the Buffs, who have four losses by four points or less and six by eight or less. Despite that, a strong finish to the season can lead the Buffs to the postseason.
“I definitely like how we’re playing,” Payne said. “That’s the most important thing is that we’re in a really good head space. We’re all really gelling on the court, we’re sharing the ball really well. Practices have been really positive very competitive. Everyone is really understanding what they can do to help contribute to our overall success and I think at this time of year that’s probably the most important thing that can be happening.”
Payne knows the Buffs will have to be on their game to win on Friday. Although the Cougars are 1-5 in their last six outings, they haven’t been an easy team to beat. They knocked off then-No. 5 UCLA on Feb. 5; lost in overtime in their other meeting with the Bruins; took No. 13 Oregon to the wire twice; and have six losses by single digits.
The Cougars also feature dynamic freshman Charlisse Leger-Walker, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, at 19.5 points per game. Her sister, senior Krystal Leger-Walker, is second on the team in scoring (10.9 points per game) and first in assists.
“Everyone knows how great the Leger-Walker sisters are at Washington State, but it’s not just them,” Payne said. “They have a lot of really good pieces around them. Those two just happen to be pretty special, but it’ll be a tough game. I think we’ve learned a lot since (a 76-63 loss to WSU in Boulder on Jan. 3) and I’m sure they have, as well.
“I think it’s a mindset. We’re determined to go out there and be successful. Everybody that’s on this trip needs to be dialed in and understand that it is a difficult trip and we’ve got to all be hitting on all cylinders.”
Seventh in the Pac-12 going into the weekend, CU could jump over the Cougars to sixth with a win. More important would be the benefit in the NET rankings, which will be used to help determine the NCAA Tournament qualifiers. As of Thursday, CU was at No. 57 and would get a boost by beating the No. 39 Cougars.
Another game possible
CU has had five games postponed this season, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Payne said there is a chance at least one will get rescheduled for next week.
Every team in the conference is scheduled for just one game next week, against its travel partner; CU plays at Utah on Feb. 28. The rest of the week is open, however, and the Pac-12 told coaches this week that some postponed games could be rescheduled.
CU Buffs women’s basketball at Washington State Cougars
TIPOFF: Friday, 1 p.m., at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, Wash.
BROADCAST: Online – Pac-12.com/live/Washington-state-university. Radio – 630 AM
RECORDS: Colorado 8-9 (6-8 Pac-12); Washington State 9-9 (7-9 Pac-12)
COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 5th season (68-73; 169-186 career). WSU – Kami Ethridge, 3rd season (29-50; 112-94 career)
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado – G Sila Finau, 5-9, Jr. (5.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.3 apg); G Frida Formann, 6-0, Fr. (11.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg); F Mya Hollingshed, 6-3, Sr. (16.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg); G Aubrey Knight, 6-0, Jr. (5.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg); F Peanut Tuitele, 6-1, Jr. (7.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg). WSU – G Charlisse Leger-Walker, 5-10, Fr. (19.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.3 spg); G Krystal Leger-Walker, 5-9, Sr. (10.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.4 apg); F Ula Motuga, 6-0, Jr. (9.7 ppg, 7.1. rpg); C Bella Murekatete, 6-3, So. (8.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg); G Johanna Teder, 5-8, So. (5.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg).
NOTES: The Buffs bring a two-game winning streak into the game, including a 66-56 victory against Southern California on Feb. 12. … The Buffs haven’t won three consecutive Pac-12 games since a 10-game winning streak from Feb. 3-March 8, 2013. … CU is 7-12 all-time against the Cougars, including 1-8 in Pullman (1-7 since joining the Pac-12). … CU lost to the Cougars, 76-63, on Jan. 3 in Boulder. The Leger-Walker sisters combined for 41 points, with Krystal scoring 25 points and Charlisse adding 16 points and 10 assists. Hollingshed had 15 points for CU. … After a 7-1 start to the season, the Cougars are 2-7 in their last nine games. They are riding a three-game losing streak going into this weekend. … At home this season, WSU is 5-4, while CU is 1-6 on the road. … WSU has had the same starting five – the Leger-Walker sisters, Motuga, Murekatete and Teder – for all 18 games this season.