The Colorado women’s basketball team is on a roll and the nation is starting to notice.
On Monday, the Buffaloes (14-3, 5-1 Pac-12) jumped into the Associated Press Top 25 rankings for the first time this season, at No. 24.
CU knocked off then-No. 14 Arizona, 72-65, on Friday – a week after upsetting No. 8 Utah, 77-67, in Boulder.
“It feels great,” CU head coach JR Payne said after the Arizona game of having back-to-back upsets. “I think our coaching staff does a great job of just focusing on every single day.”
South Carolina remains at No. 1, while CU is one of six Pac-12 schools in the rankings, along with No. 4 Stanford, No. 8 Utah, No. 9 UCLA, No. 19 Arizona and No. 23 Oregon.
The Buffs quickly turned their focus to this week. They visit California (10-7, 1-5) on Friday before a road test at Stanford (17-2, 5-1) on Sunday.
“It’s great; we beat Arizona, but Sunday’s practice nobody cares about that anymore,” Payne said. “We’re very focused on: what do we need to do to be great today? … We try to play the same brand of basketball every single day.”
CU got away from that in Salt Lake City on Dec. 14 in a humbling 85-58 loss to Utah in the Pac-12 opener. Since then, the Buffs have won six straight (plus a forfeit victory against Arizona State that counts in the Pac-12 standings but not for the overall record).
In each of the last four wins, all in Pac-12 play, CU has had to weather late runs by the opponent, including Arizona actually taking two separate leads in the fourth quarter. Each time, the Buffs rallied back to secure the win.
“It’s awesome,” junior Frida Formann said of the Buffs’ late-game maturity. “We have in the past had those games where we just let up down the stretch. … Even though it feels like we’re not playing the best basketball every minute, we’re just not letting up. I think that just speaks to how we practice and what our identity is. We just don’t quit. That’s just not who we are. So, to actually be able to play that way, every game is really huge.”
CU has trailed for a total of just 71 seconds in the second half of the last six games combined – all of that coming in the fourth quarter against Arizona.
During the winning streak, the Buffs are shooting 46.9% from the field, including 38.9% from 3-point range. They’ve also been plus-62 on rebounds and held the opposition to 56.2 points per game while playing their trademark gritty brand of basketball.
“Our upperclassmen have done a great job of setting that standard with our new and young players, and I think it’s very much ingratiated in our culture that that’s who we are no matter what,” Payne said.
“We play with a lot of emotion. We’re a very competitive group. Most days in practice, there’s a lot of fire and grit and competitive spirit in what we’re doing. … I love to see the celebration photos, the way that our team celebrates each other. The way that we share the ball in big moments is very unselfish. It’s fun to coach.”