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Women’s basketball: CU Buffs to face former teammate Peanut Tuitele

California's Peanut Tuitele, center, looks for an open teammate during a game against Cal State Northridge on Nov. 7, 2022, at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif. (Kelley L Cox/KLC fotos)
California’s Peanut Tuitele, center, looks for an open teammate during a game against Cal State Northridge on Nov. 7, 2022, at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif. (Kelley L Cox/KLC fotos)

Among the many items on display on JR Payne’s desk is a framed photo of former Colorado women’s basketball standout Peanut Tuitele.

It includes a hand-written message to Payne, thanking her for the four years Tuitele spent in Boulder.

On Friday, Payne and Tuitele will see each other again, but this time as opponents when the 24th-ranked Buffaloes visit California in the first game of a weekend trip to the Bay Area.

Having graduated from CU last spring, Tuitele took advantage of the bonus year granted by the NCAA because of the COVID-19 pandemic to play for Cal, which is located much closer to her hometown of Chico, Calif.

“My mom has not missed a game (this year) and that was one of the big reasons why I came here,” Tuitele told BuffZone this week. “(In previous years), I didn’t get to see her a lot in the crowd when I wanted to see her. When I look up and I actually get to see her face, nothing else matters because this is the reason why I’m here is because of that woman and my dad.”

Tuitele still loves CU and the Buffs, however, and seeing Payne on Friday will be emotional.

“I was talking to my teammates and I was like, I might get teary-eyed when I see coach J because that woman, I’m indebted to her,” Tuitele said.

Riding a six-game winning streak, CU is looking to keep the momentum going, but having Tuitele on the other side adds a different dynamic. It’s the first time in recent memory that CU has faced a former player.

“Very excited (to see her),” CU senior Tayanna Jones said. “We miss Peanut. She’s just such a great vocal leader.  She has a good presence on and off the court. We’re definitely interested to see her in a different color, but it’ll be fun.”

A 6-foot-1 forward, Tuitele was a leader for a CU team that ended a nine-year NCAA Tournament drought last season. Tuitele helped CU grow from 2-16 in Pac-12 play her freshman year to 9-7 last year.

“We’re still very close and very connected and we cheer for each other every game – except the one we play each other – but we can’t wait to see her,” Payne said.

“Peanut is the ultimate teammate and does all the dirty work. … Everything that she was doing here, she’s doing there.”

A four-year starter at CU, Tuitele averaged 7.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in her 110 games with the Buffs. At Cal, she has started all 15 games she’s played, averaging 6.0 points and 5.5 rebounds.

“My body is old; you know how it goes. The injuries only keep coming,” she said. “But, with the punches I’ve been thrown, I think I’ve been playing good and my teammates have been encouraging me to do more. … From the jump they believed in me.”

BOULDER, CO, Feb. 23, 2022: University ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s Peanut Tuitele celebrates the 2OT win over Oregon during the Pac-12 game in Boulder on February 23, 2022.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Cal finished last in the Pac-12 in 2020 and 2021 and 11th last year. The Golden Bears are currently 11th and have lost three straight, but Payne isn’t overlooking them.

On Sunday, a Tuitele layup with 7 minutes, 22 seconds to play pulled the Bears within one point at No. 9 UCLA before the Bruins pulled away. A week earlier, a Tuitele layup gave the Bears a three-point fourth-quarter lead at home against No. 4 Stanford, but they eventually lost by four. Cal has also played tight games against No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 19 Arizona this season.

“We feel like Cal is one of the most dangerous teams in the Pac-12 right now,” Payne said. “They are a very good team and we’re excited for that challenge.”

Cal is dangerous in part because of Tuitele, who has been one of the primary leaders.

“We’re learning how to play together more,” she said. “Our chemistry is getting better, our trust in one another is growing. We’re just learning how to finish the game and how to play a complete 40 minutes because we have the talent and skill. … This feels super familiar to my first years at CU.”

Beating the Buffs would be a huge step for Cal. Tuitele has helped Cal’s staff in preparing for the game, because she knows the strengths and weakness of a lot of the Buffs and knows a lot of the plays.

Yet, while Tuitele made it clear she wants to beat CU, but she’s also excited to see the program continuing the success she enjoyed last season.

“I’m very proud of them,” she said. “Passing the torch to them, I knew I entrusted the right people to carry it on and to improve the program even further than what we did. And just to see it unfold and flourish, even for Coach J, it means a lot because that woman deserves it all.”

No. 24 CU Buffs women’s basketball at California Golden Bears

TIPOFF: Friday, 12:30 p.m. MT, at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif.

TV/RADIO: TV — Pac-12 Network. Radio — KHOW 630 AM

RECORDS: Colorado 14-3, 5-1 Pac-12; California 10-7, 1-5 Pac-12.

COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 7th season (108-87; 209-200 career); California — Charmin Smith, 4th season (34-55).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G Frida Formann, 5-11, Jr. (12.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.7 apg); G Tayanna Jones, 6-1, Sr. (7.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg); C Quay Miller, 6-3, Sr. (14.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.8 spg); G Jaylyn Sherrod, 5-7, Sr. (9.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 5.5 apg, 2.4 spg); C Aaronette Vonleh, 6-3, So. (11.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G Kindyll Wetta, 5-9, So. (6.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.6 spg). California — G Jayda Curry, 5-6, So. (14.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.1 apg); F Evelien Lutje Schipholt, 6-2, Sr. (9.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg); G Kemery Martin, 6-0, So. (11.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.4 apg); G Leilani McIntosh, 5-5, Sr. (10.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.2 spg); F Peanut Tuitele, 6-1, Sr. (6.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg).

NOTES: Colorado begins a two-game trip to the Bay Area, concluding with Sunday’s visit to No. 4 Stanford. … The Buffs have won six in a row (plus a forfeit win against Arizona State that counts only in the conference standings). … The Buffs are 12-1 against unranked opponents this season, while Cal has lost 12 in a row against ranked opponents since an upset of then-No. 13 Arizona on March 1, 2020. … The all-time series is tied 12-12. CU is 6-5 in Berkeley and has won the last five overall in the series. … CU won the only matchup last year, 73-56 in Berkeley. Tuitele, now with Cal, led CU with 15 points. … As of Thursday, CU was at No. 20 in the NET rankings, while Cal was at No. 78. … Cal has lost 3 in a row, but is 7-3 at home this season. … Since reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2019, the Golden Bears are 8-45 against Pac-12 competition. … The game has an early tip time because of Cal’s annual School Haas Rock event, which brings local kids from the Bay Area to the game.