Before practice on Monday, Colorado women’s basketball coach JR Payne looked across the court to see senior Mya Hollingshed talking to her teammates in a huddle.
“I couldn’t hear her on the other side of the gym, but when they came in I said, ‘I don’t know what Mya said, but I’m sure it was spot on, so do what she said and let’s have a great practice.’
“That kind of speaks to the fact that I have a tremendous amount of trust in our upperclassmen and they are prepared and they will make sure as a group that we’re all prepared.”
Payne, Hollingshed and the rest of the Buffaloes (10-9, 8-8 Pac-12) are carrying confidence into the Pac-12 Tournament, which begins Wednesday night at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas. Seeded sixth, the Buffs will face 11th-seeded Washington (6-13, 3-13) in the opening round at 9 p.m. MT.
CU has won four consecutive games and has its highest seed for this event since going in at No. 4 in 2013.
“I definitely think we’re more equipped to make a deeper run than we ever have been,” Payne said.
They are equipped to stick round for a few days for several reasons, including Hollingshed, who averages 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and was named first-team All-Pac-12.
The Buffs are also balanced in their attack and loaded with maturity and leadership.
“We’re all really excited,” junior Aubrey Knight said. “We’re given an opportunity here to do really well in this tournament and we all kind of have the mindset of we’re coming in to win this tournament, which I think is a little bit different than the mindset we’ve had in past years.
“I think that we’re all coming into this with like a fresh mindset of we need to show everyone what team that we are right now because we’re different than what we were at the beginning of the season. I think that we’re all really excited for that and kind of coming in as a higher seed is a different opportunity.”
CU was the No. 10 seed last year and No. 12 in 2019, losing in the first round both times.
This season, however, the Buffs are enjoying more success than in any year since 2013, and that has put them in position to get in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament.
As of Tuesday, they were No. 50 in the NET rankings. Winning two or three games in Las Vegas could significantly boost that number and get them into the NCAA tourney.
“I think that we are definitely in a position to do really well, and we all really want to do well and we kind of know what’s at risk here of going into the NCAA Tournament,” Knight said. “That’s kind of everyone’s goal for this year and coming into this tournament.”
Payne realizes what is at stake for her team, but knows the only way to pile up wins in Vegas this week is to get the first one against the Huskies.
“We’ll just focus on Washington and go from there,” Payne said. “But, honestly we need to win games. We need to win every game that we can play. I think if we do that, then we give ourselves a great chance. … We just want to play as long as we can here in Vegas and in order to do that, we’ve got to win games.”
CU has won games, especially lately, by coming together as a group. In addition to Hollingshed, the Buffs routinely get significant contribution from Sila Finau, Frida Formann, Tay Jones, Knight, Peanut Tuitele, Charlotte Whittaker and others.
It’s more than points, rebounds and assists that have helped the Buffs succeed, though.
“This is a closer knit group than I’ve coached in a long time,” Knight said. “They’re very selfless, they’re very excited for each other. There’s no egos. People are genuinely happy for each other when others are successful.
“There’s just a cohesiveness that I think is really special. I love the fact that Mya is a great scorer and I love the fact that Aubrey is so great on the glass and all those things are wonderful, but they pale in comparison to the type of people that they are and the type of people that they are to each other. That’s why I feel the most confidence about our ability to make a deep run. And the way that we’re playing right now, it’s not just basketball right now. It’s a group that’s really together and wants to win and wants to win for each other.”
The schedule for the tournament (all games on the Pac-12 Network, unless noted otherwise). All times listed are MT.
Wednesday, March 3
Game 1: No. 5 Oregon State vs. No. 12 California, noon
Game 2: No. 8 Southern California vs. No. 9 Arizona State, 3 p.m.
Game 3: No. 7 Washington State vs. No. 10 Utah, 6 p.m.
Game 4: No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 Washington, 9 p.m.
Thursday, March 4
Game 5: No. 4 Oregon vs. Game 1 winner, noon
Game 6: No. 1 Stanford vs. Game 2 winner, 3 p.m.
Game 7: No. 2 Arizona vs. Game 3 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 8: No. 3 UCLA vs. Game 4 winner, 9 p.m.
Friday, March 5
Game 9: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 10: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 9 p.m.
Sunday, March 7
Championship Game, 6 p.m. (TV: ESPN2)
CU Buffs women’s basketball vs. Washington Huskies
TIPOFF: Wednesday, 9 p.m. MT, at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas
BROADCAST: TV – Pac-12 Networks. Radio – 630 AM
RECORDS: Colorado 10-9 (8-8 Pac-12); Washington 6-13 (3-13 Pac-12)
COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 5th season (70-73; 171-186 career). Washington – Jody Wynn, 4th season (37-74; 174-193 career)
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado – G Sila Finau, 5-9, Jr. (5.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.3 apg); G Frida Formann, 6-0, Fr. (11.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.1 apg); F Mya Hollingshed, 6-3, Sr. (16.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg); G Aubrey Knight, 6-0, Jr. (5.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg); F Peanut Tuitele, 6-1, Jr. (7.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg). Washington – C Quay Miller, 6-3, So. (9.4 ppg, 6.1. rpg); F Darcy Rees, 6-4, Jr. (8.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg); F Khayla Rooks, 6-1, Sr. (5.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.2 apg); G Tameiya Sadler, 5-8, Fr. (9.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.1 apg); F Haley Van Dyke, 6-0, Jr. (12.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.3 spg).
NOTES: The Buffs bring a four-game winning streak into the game, including a 55-50 win at Washington on Feb. 21. … CU has not played since beating the Huskies, as its matchup at Utah on Sunday was canceled because of COVID-19 issues with Utah. … The Buffs haven’t won five consecutive Pac-12 games since a 10-game winning streak from Feb. 3-March 8, 2013. … CU is 12-15 all-time against Washington and won both meetings during the regular season. CU beat the Huskies, 60-50, on Jan. 1 in Boulder. … Washington has lost two in a row, against CU and at Washington State on Sunday, 61-52. … Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011-12, the Buffs are 6-9 in the conference tournament, but have lost six of their last seven. … The Huskies are 7-9 in this tournament since 2012. … Since the 2011-12 season, the No. 6 seed is 5-4 in the first round of this event. … As the No. 11 seed in 2019, Washington reached the semifinals.