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Women’s basketball: No. 24 CU Buffs, No. 4 Stanford battle for first place

Stanford's Haley Jones tries to get past Colorado's Frida Formann during the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament on March 4, 2022 in Las Vegas. (Al Powers/Powers Imagery)
Stanford’s Haley Jones tries to get past Colorado’s Frida Formann during the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament on March 4, 2022 in Las Vegas. (Al Powers/Powers Imagery)

Sitting in first place isn’t as big of a deal in mid-January as it would be at the end of February.

Still, if the Colorado women’s basketball team is to make a run at the Pac-12 championship this season, Sunday is a huge day.

The 24th-ranked Buffaloes (16-3, 6-1 Pac-12) visit No. 4 Stanford (18-2, 6-1) with the top spot in the conference on the line. The two teams enter the game tied for first place, but after Friday’s 73-66 win at California, Colorado senior Quay Miller downplayed Sunday’s game as simply an opportunity.

“We’re definitely excited to have another opportunity to play basketball against another ranked team,” Miller said.

Stanford, of course, isn’t just another ranked team. The Cardinal have set the standard in the conference for decades – long before CU joined in 2011.

Led by coach Tara VanDerveer, now in her 37th season, Stanford is aiming for a third consecutive conference title. The Cardinal have won 26 regular season conference titles since 1989.

As always, CU head coach JR Payne isn’t focused on history or the fact that the Cardinal have two of the best players in the country – Cameron Brink and Haley Jones.

CU’s primary concern is CU.

“We take a lot of pride in performing every single day, whether it’s a hard, long practice or preparation day or shoot around,” Payne said prior to the Buffs’ game against Cal. “We take a lot of pride in that.”

Payne, her staff and her players have the same mantra regardless of the opponent, regardless of the venue and regardless of the stakes.

“I think one thing that we do really well as a staff and as a program is we’re so focused on being excellent every day,” she said.

The Buffs have been excellent over the past few weeks, as they take a seven-game winning streak into Maples Pavilion. The streak includes upset wins at home against No. 8 Utah and then-No. 14 Arizona.

On Friday, the Buffs battled a tough Cal team for a meaningful road win. It was a physically draining game for the Buffs, but considering the early start time of that one (12:30 p.m. MT) and a bit later than usual start time against Stanford (3 p.m. MT, as opposed to Noon), the Buffs have extra time to recover.

“I think we’re all just tired, so we need to rest,” Payne said after the Cal win. “It was hard to play this early in the morning, but maybe it’s a blessing. We get a few more hours rest this afternoon, but we’re excited to play Stanford and we’ll be ready.”

CU hasn’t won three in a row against ranked teams since Feb. 6-March16, 1997, but does have some history in playing well against the Cardinal – even though Stanford has typically come out on top.

During the 2019-20 season, the Buffs lost to Stanford once in overtime and another time by three on a buzzer-beater. On Jan. 17, 2021, in Boulder, the Buffs beat then-No. 1 Stanford in overtime.

Overall, the Buffs are 1-20 against Stanford since joining the Pac-12 and they’ve never won at Maples (0-13). None of that matters on Sunday, however. Payne and the Buffs will aim to be excellent and embrace the challenge.

“It’s always a great opportunity anytime you can play a team of that caliber, not just in the conference but on the national stage,” Payne said. “We’re excited for that opportunity.”

No. 24 CU Buffs women’s basketball at No. 4 Stanford Cardinal

TIPOFF: Sunday, 3 p.m. MT, at Maples Pavilion, Stanford, Calif.

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

RECORDS: Colorado 15-3, 6-1 Pac-12; Stanford 18-2, 6-1 Pac-12.

COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 7th season (109-87; 210-200 career); Stanford — Tara VanDerveer, 37th season (1,022-210; 1,174-261 career)

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G Frida Formann, 5-11, Jr. (12.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.7 apg, 41.8% 3-point, 93.8% FT); G Tayanna Jones, 6-1, Sr. (6.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg); C Quay Miller, 6-3, Sr. (14.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.7 spg, 46.2% 3-point); G Jaylyn Sherrod, 5-7, Sr. (9.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, 2.3 spg, 47.4% 3-point); C Aaronette Vonleh, 6-3, So. (11.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 61.4% FG); G Kindyll Wetta, 5-9, So. (6.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.6 spg). Stanford — F Cameron Brink, 6-4, Jr. (14.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 3.3 bpg); F Kiki Iriafen, 6-3, So. (8.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg); G Haley Jones, 6-1, Sr. (13.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 3.9 apg); G Hannah Jump, 6-0 , Sr. (11.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 45.2% 3-point); G Talana Lepolo, 5-7, Fr. (5.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 4.1 apg).

NOTES: CU has won seven in a row, including four straight on the road. … The Buffs are 5-1 in their last six Pac-12 road games. … This is the 13th time since joining the Pac-12 that CU has been involved in a game matching two Associated Press-ranked teams. The Buffs are 0-12 so far in those matchups. Dating back to January of 2004, the Buffs have lost 19 consecutive games when both teams are ranked. … The Buffs have lost their last 51 road games against AP Top 25 teams. The last win was at then-No. 20 Vanderbilt on Dec. 9, 2007. … CU is 5-25 all-time against Stanford, including 1-20 since joining the Pac-12. The Buffs are 0-13 at Maples Pavilion. … Stanford had won 39 straight against Pac-12 foes until a 55-46 loss at USC last Sunday. The Cardinal rebounded with a 74-62 home win against No. 8 Utah on Friday.