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CU Buffs women ready for long-awaited Pac-12 opener

JR Payne’s squad has not played in 17 days

University of Colorado Boulder's Mya Hollingshed (No. 21) shoots over University of San Francisco's Claudia Langarita (No. 22) at the CU Events Center on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
University of Colorado Boulder’s Mya Hollingshed (No. 21) shoots over University of San Francisco’s Claudia Langarita (No. 22) at the CU Events Center on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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Following a disjointed and difficult 17 days off, the Colorado women’s basketball team is eager to get back on the court.

Given the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, there was no guarantee Thursday that the Buffaloes’ matchup with Southern California on Friday would happen.

Buffs head coach JR Payne is hopeful, however, that both teams will be ready to go at 7 p.m. Friday at the CU Events Center.

“If we just put on a uniform and get out there, that’ll be cause for celebration,” said Payne, whose team hasn’t played since Dec. 20.

CU (11-0) was already going to have a long break for the holidays, but COVID-19 issues within the program caused them to postpone a trip to Oregon last week. USC (7-3) has had an even longer break, as the Trojans haven’t played since Dec. 18.

For the Buffs, last week’s disruptions included not only the COVID-19 issues but the Boulder County fires that have displaced hundreds of families. Payne’s home was spared, but her family was one of many who had to evacuate the area for a couple of days and return to a home without heat or drinkable water.

Payne and Buffs were more fortunate than many who lost their homes, but will still welcome a much-needed return to the court.

“We are thrilled,” Payne said. “We are very excited to get a chance to just have some normalcy after this past week or so with not just the COVID disruption, but also with the fires and evacuating and being separated. All of that has just created a lot of disruption in what for most of us is a very normal routine. So, we’re very, very excited and feel good and ready to go.”

As the Buffs return to the court, they will have the community on their minds. Friday’s game will continue a weekend-long effort by CU athletics to help those who have been impacted by the Marshall Fire. Between Thursday and Sunday, the men’s and women’s teams are slated to play a total of four games and at each one, CU will collect gift card donations from fans to be provided to those in need.

In terms of basketball, CU will finally get a chance to play its Pac-12 opener and Payne can’t wait.

One of just two undefeated teams in the country – along with Arizona – CU is used to putting together impressive non-conference records, only to struggle against the elite teams in the Pac-12. This might be the best team of Payne’s six-year tenure, though, and she feels more prepared to take on the Pac-12 gauntlet than she has in any other season.

“We’re very ready,” she said. “That’s more based on who we are and what we have back and the strength of our leadership, the strength of our depth, and all those types of things. We feel more ready than we ever have been.”

After the Buffs defeated San Francisco 80-56 on Dec. 20, senior Mya Hollingshed said this is a different CU team than in the past.

“I think just because of the culture that we created,” she said. “Everyone coming in willing to work. Not saying that past players haven’t had that, but it’s just a different feel. When you come in the energy is just different. It just feels like everybody’s dialed in, locked in. We all have the same goal and I think we’re all buying into that.”

That goal includes playing well in the Pac-12 and getting in position for the NCAA Tournament. That all starts Friday against a veteran USC team.

“They’re one of the most athletic teams in the league,” Payne said. “One of the better rebounding teams in the league. They have some kids that can really score the ball. They’re very aggressive defensively. Every game is tough in the Pac-12, but these guys have responded well to their coaches and are playing well.”

So are the Buffs, and after 17 days off, Payne is ready to see them in action once again.

“I think they’ve handled (the layoff) very well,” Payne said. “We certainly are a resilient group who has learned to just take things as they come and make the best of every situation.

“It won’t be beautiful basketball Friday night at least for the first few minutes, but I definitely think that we’re going to be just fine.”

CU Buffs women’s basketball vs. Southern California Trojans

TIPOFF: Friday, 7 p.m., at CU Events Center in Boulder

BROADCAST: TV – Pac-12 Network. Radio – 630 AM

RECORDS: Colorado 11-0 (0-0 Pac-12); USC 7-3 (0-0 Pac-12)

COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 6th season (83-75; 184-188 career). USC – Lindsay Gottlieb, 1st season (7-3; 242-131 career)

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado – G Sila Finau, 5-9, Sr. (5.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G Frida Formann, 5-11, So. (7.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg); F Mya Hollingshed, 6-3, Sr. (14.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg; 1.2 bpg); C Quay Miller, 6-3, Jr. (12.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg); G Jaylyn Sherrod, 5-7, Jr. (6.8 ppg; 2.8 rpg; 3.7 apg, 1.9 spg); F Peanut Tuitele, 6-1, Sr. (6.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Kindyll Wetta, 5-9, Fr. (3.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.2 spg). USC – F Jordyn Jenkins, 6-2, So. (11.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg); G/F Rayah Marshall, 6-4, Fr. (10.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg); F Alissa Pili, 6-0, Jr. (9.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg); G Tera Reed, 6-0, Sr. (7.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.2 apg); F Jordan Sanders, 5-11, Sr. (13.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.6 apg, 2.2 spg).

NOTES: This is the Pac-12 opener for both teams. … The Buffs are off to an 11-0 start for the sixth time in program history. They’ve had four previous 12-0 starts, most recently in 2019-20.  … CU will have had 17 off days between games. That is the longest in-season layoff for a CU team since a 20-day layoff in December of 1979. … USC leads the all-time series, 15-9. The teams split the series last season, with the home team winning each game. … Since joining the Pac-12 for the 2011-12 season, CU is 2-8 in conference openers. Both wins came at Utah (Dec. 31, 2011, and Dec. 29, 2019). … Gottlieb spent the previous two seasons as an assistant coach for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Prior to that, she was the head coach at California for eight seasons. She led the Golden Bears to a 179-89 record and seven trips to the NCAA Tournament.

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