After getting word that the team’s latest round of COVID-19 tests came back negative, Colorado women’s basketball head coach JR Payne couldn’t wait to get back on the court with her entire team.
The Buffaloes will proceed with caution, however, as they go through the remainder of the season. CU (11-0) is scheduled to host Southern California (7-3) on Friday in the delayed Pac-12 opener. UCLA (5-3) is scheduled to visit Boulder on Sunday.
“We will continue to be really diligent for sure,” said Payne, whose team conducted its first full-team workout in about a week on Tuesday.
COVID-19 cases are on the rise around the country with numerous college basketball games being canceled or postponed in the past month.
The virus caught up to the CU women last week, causing the Buffs to postpone their first two Pac-12 games, at Oregon State and at Oregon. Those games have yet to be rescheduled.
The women were put on pause about a week after the CU men had to cancel a Dec. 21 game against Kansas, followed by postponing their own trip to Oregon.
“As soon as we had a positive on our men’s team, we automatically told the team we’re wearing masks from here on out except for practice,” Payne said.
Shortly after players returned from the Christmas break, however, the Buffs were put on pause.
This is the second consecutive season to be impacted by COVID-19, but Payne said this one has been more unpredictable.
By the time the 2020-21 season rolled around, the Pac-12 had guidelines and protocols in place and players were testing daily. There were also no fans allowed in the stands, so staying isolated was easier.
This year, with the majority of the country vaccinated — including all the CU players — life has been more open. Fans are back in the stands and players aren’t getting tested often because they are vaccinated.
The recent surge of COVID-19 cases and the highly contagious omicron variant have put the Buffs and everyone else on high alert once again.
“The numbers are staggering,” Payne said. “The rate of contagiousness … that seems to be significantly higher than any of the other variants that we’ve dealt with. I just think that’s why we’re seeing so many teams and so many games canceled. I don’t know what that means for the rest of the season.
“Hopefully, we can kind of all get through this first little bit of a crazy spell and then be able to play the rest of the season.”
Last weekend, the Pac-12 had its opening set of conference games scheduled, but 10 of the 12 games were postponed. Washington State was the only team that hosted, playing California and Stanford. So far, five of the 12 games scheduled for this weekend have been postponed, as well.
Stanford was missing several key players for the game at Washington State. Payne said she doesn’t know why players were out, but believes her staff needs to be prepared for any circumstance going forward because of COVID-19.
Per Pac-12 rules, as long as the Buffs have seven healthy scholarship players, they are required to play.
“Every team is gonna have, hopefully, enough to play but you might be missing a player or four,” she said. “I think we’re gonna see a lot of that. If you have seven players, you’ve got to be ready to go for 40 minutes, even if you haven’t played a minute all year. It’s just kind of a weird heightened sense of readiness and preparedness that we need to all have.”
During the past week, CU wasn’t able to practice as a team but did small group workouts. Essentially, Payne said, roommates worked out together as the Buffs tried to stay in shape during the break.
“Our biggest concern, honestly, was our conditioning level,” Payne said. “Getting up and down (the court) in a two and a half hour practice, you’re getting a fair amount of conditioning. I wasn’t totally worried about the basketball part of it … but the conditioning level can drop very, very quickly.”
If the Buffs and Trojans do play on Friday night, it will be CU’s first game since Dec. 20. The 17 days off between games would be the longest layoff for the CU women’s program since a 20-day layoff during the 1979-80 season.
“I would expect it wouldn’t be beautiful,” Payne said. “But, we will just be thankful to have a uniform on and be playing.”
The longest in-season layoff in CU women’s basketball history came during the 1975-76 season. That year, the Buffs had one stretch of 33 days off, between games on Dec. 4 and Jan. 7. … The current layoff, if it ends Friday, would be the fifth-longest in program history. … CU remains one of only three undefeated teams in Division I, along with Arizona (10-0) and North Carolina (13-0).