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Colorado's Sila Finau, left, yells out instructions while the Buffs play Mississippi in their Women's NIT quarterfinal held Monday in Collierville, Tenn.  (Photo courtesy Nigel Amstock/CU Independent)
Colorado’s Sila Finau, left, yells out instructions while the Buffs play Mississippi in their Women’s NIT quarterfinal held Monday in Collierville, Tenn. (Photo courtesy Nigel Amstock/CU Independent)
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COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. — Just a few months ago, the Colorado women’s basketball team wasn’t sure if it would get a chance to play this season.

Even when the season began, it was a daily grind just to stay free of the coronavirus and get a chance to play games.

Through it all, the Buffaloes became a tight-knit group that put together the program’s best season in eight years.

That made Monday night a tough one, as the Buffs saw their season come to a close with a 65-56 loss to Mississippi in the quarterfinals of the Women’s NIT at My Town Movers Fieldhouse.

“In the time I’ve been here at CU, this is the closest I’ve ever been to every single one of my teammates,” junior Peanut Tuitele said. “This one really hurt us a lot and we’re taking it personal, but, you know, it’s a chance to grow up in the future.”

CU’s run to the WNIT quarterfinals could be a springboard to the program’s future, but it was a tough way to see a promising season come to a close.

Foul trouble, turnovers and giving up second-chance points proved costly for the Buffs (12-11), who ran out of time in their efforts to rally past the Rebels (14-11).

CU trailed by 18 at one point and was down 17 early in the fourth quarter, but cut the deficit to 59-56 with 1 minute, 37 seconds to play.

Ole Miss scored the last six points to close out the game, however, as CU had turnovers on three of its last four possessions.

“We had a valiant effort to fight all the way back to three points with our point guard on the bench most of the game and our star also on the bench for a large portion of the game,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “It was a pretty remarkable show of heart from everyone else that had to step up and do more and contribute in ways that they probably didn’t expect to be called upon. Very proud of our team and the way that we competed tonight.”

Senior Mya Hollingshed had another difficult night, as she finished with eight points and four rebounds before fouling out with 9:46 to play in the fourth. CU’s leading scorer and rebounder this season, she spent much of the last two games on the bench — fouling out in both games.

On Monday, point guard Sila Finau joined her. Finau has been the Buffs’ primary ball handler the second half of the season and she’s been exceptional. She played just 21 minutes against the Rebels, however, before fouling out with 3:43 to play.

“It was not the reason that we didn’t win the ballgame, but it impacted every single facet of the ballgame,” Payne said of the foul trouble. “It impacted our ability to cleanly run offense from the backcourt to the frontcourt. It took away our first team all-league kid (Hollingshed), who is our leading scorer and leading rebounder.”

Photo courtesy CU athletics
Colorado’s Tayanna Jones, right, races down the floor during a Women’s NIT quarterfinal game against Mississippi played Monday in Colliersville, Tenn. (Photo courtesy Nigel Amstock/CU Independent)

Despite that, CU got 19 points from freshman Frida Formann and another great effort from Charlotte Whittaker (11 points). Tuitele added eight points, five rebounds and three steals.

CU also turned to Madison Buford to play the point. A junior college transfer who had played just 64 minutes all season, Buford played 10 minutes and contributed to the rally.

“Everybody did more, which is what they know they need to do when somebody is down,” Payne said. “It’s next woman up. Our team did an incredible job of that throughout this entire tournament.

“I think every single player on our team was totally ready as far as if their number was called they knew what they needed to do to contribute and help the group be successful.”

The Buffs got in too big of a hole to climb out, however. Ole Miss scored 18 points off 13 first-half CU turnovers and built 39-23 lead at halftime.

For the game, the Rebels scored 25 points off 21 CU turnovers and, more importantly, turned 15 offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points. Add that to the foul trouble and it was an uphill battle for the Buffs.

“It was difficult because calls weren’t going our way, but that didn’t dictate the game,” Tuitele said. “It affected our style of play because we started playing with emotions, and getting out of our system.”

When it was over, the Buffs were disappointed, but Payne was proud of how her team came together to have a season that was filled with numerous highlights.

“The best thing about all of it is that we did all of those things, as a cohesive, selfless, incredible group of young women,” Payne said. “That, to me, is the best part of it is that we did it all with class and a great mindset as a group.”

Fast break

What went right: Despite a load of adversity, the Buffs remained composed and battled back in the fourth quarter to give themselves a chance to win.

What went wrong: CU struggled with turnovers, gave up 15 offensive rebounds and had two of its top players, Mya Hollingshed and Sila Finau, foul out.

Star of the game: Frida Formann. The freshman had 19 points and four rebounds, scoring 10 of her points in the fourth quarter.

What’s next: The Buffs look ahead to the offseason, as their 2020-21 season comes to a close.

Mississippi 65, Colorado 56

COLORADO (12-11)

Jones 0-5 0-0 0, Hollingshed 4-12 0-0 8, Formann 6-10 4-4 19, Tuitele 3-5 2-2 8, Finau 1-6 2-2 4, Kulinska 0-1 0-0 0, Blacksten 0-0 0-0 0, Buford 0-1 2-2 2, Knight 2-3 0-0 4, Whittaker 3-7 5-9 11. Totals 19-50 15-19 56.

MISSISSIPPI (14-11)

Austin 3-8 6-7 12, Reid 1-3 6-10 9, Scott 4-8 3-6 11, Johnson 7-16 1-2 15, Collins 4-10 0-0 11, McGee 1-1 0-0 2, Bracey 0-3 0-0 0, Douglas 0-1 0-0 0, Kitchens 0-0 0-0 0, Nesbitt 2-5 1-2 5. Totals 22-55 17-27 65.

Colorado                     13        10        16        17        –           56

Mississippi                   11        28        15        11        –           65

3-point goals – Colorado 3-12 (Formann 3-7, Hollingshed 0-3, Jones 0-1, Finau 0-1), Mississippi 4-10 (Collins 3-5, Reid 1-2, Bracey 0-2, Austin 0-1). Rebounds – Colorado 30 (Tuitele, Finau 5), Mississippi 39 (Scott 12). Assists – Colorado 12 (Finau 4), Mississippi 13 (Reid 4). Steals – Colorado 10 (Tuitele, Finau 3), Mississippi 7 (Collins 2). Turnovers – Colorado 21, Mississippi 20. Total fouls – Colorado 27, Mississippi 19. Fouled out – Hollingshed, Finau. Technical fouls – Colorado bench, Austin (Mississippi).

Remaining WNIT schedule

All times Mountain

Quarterfinals, Monday, March 22

Rice 79, California Baptist 55

Delaware 77, Villanova 70

Mississippi 65, Colorado 56

Northern Iowa 58, Saint Louis 50

Semifinals, Friday, March 26

At Collierville, Tenn.

Rice (21-4) vs. Delaware (24-4), 3 p.m.

Mississippi (14-11) vs. Northern Iowa (17-12), 6 p.m.

Championship, Sunday, March 28

At Collierville, Tenn.

Semifinal winners, Noon