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Women’s basketball: Mature, talented CU Buffs navigating tough Pac-12 slate

No. 25 Buffs to host No. 8 UCLA on Friday

Colorado Buffaloes' Frida Formann drives past Arizona Wildcats' Lauren Fields in Boulder on Jan. 13, 2023.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Colorado Buffaloes’ Frida Formann drives past Arizona Wildcats’ Lauren Fields in Boulder on Jan. 13, 2023.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Going through the gauntlet that is the Pac-12 women’s basketball schedule means there is no time to rest.

There’s no time to celebrate a big win. No time to hang heads after a tough loss.

“That’s just how it is in this conference, which is fun,” Colorado’s Frida Formann said. “Also draining sometimes, but you’ve gotta keep on your toes.”

On Friday, just five days after a loss at No. 4 Stanford, the 25th-ranked Buffaloes will host No. 8 UCLA at the CU Events Center. It will be CU’s fourth duel with a top-15 opponent in the last five games.

“UCLA has just been really consistent this season and just been that top-10 team and, yeah, we’re just excited to take on another one of those opponents,” Formann said.

For years, the Pac-12 has been a loaded conference in women’s basketball and for years the schedule buried the Buffaloes. Under the direction of head coach JR Payne and her staff, however, CU has a program that now consistently contends with, and sometimes beats, the best in the Pac-12.

“You just learn really quickly that there’s no time to be sad about a bad game or to stay excited about a great game,” Payne said. “You’ve just got to move on really quickly because your preparation is so important, and your preparation has to be so right.”

Payne is in her seventh season at CU and it took some time build a program that could handle the Pac-12 slate.

In Payne’s first four seasons, the Buffs went 17-66 in regular season Pac-12 games, plus a 1-4 record at the conference tournament. In the past two-and-a-half seasons, the Buffs are 23-17 against the conference in the regular season and 2-2 in the tournament – including last year’s run to the semifinals.

Last year, for the first time in 11 years, the Buffs posted two upsets of Top-25 foes. This season has already included recent home wins against then-No. 8 Utah and No. 14 Arizona.

Starting Friday, CU could face ranked opponents in four of the last 10 games.

In addition to better top-to-bottom talent on the roster than in the past, the Buffs have featured mature, veteran leaders the past two seasons and that has played a significant role in the success.

“I think it’s really helpful,” Payne said. “When you have veterans that are consistent in their training and consistent in their vocal presence and consistent in holding us, as a group, to a high standard, I think that’s the key because they recognize that if you have two bad days of prep before a game, it’s probably not gonna go very well because your opponent is too good for that.”

CU had a terrible day on offense in Sunday’s loss to Stanford, but that veteran presence on the team has allowed the Buffs to push that aside in preparation for Friday’s matchup against UCLA.

“We talked about this (Tuesday), too, in practice of just we need to have confidence and we need to kind of own how good we are,” Formann said. “I feel like we’ve got a pretty good core group of veterans. We also know each other really well. (Point guard Jaylyn Sherrod) came up to me in the training room the other day and we had a conversation just about where we are mentally … (At this point in the season), everyone’s tired and you kind of have to keep being on top of trying to remain cohesive as a group.”

Veterans such as Formann and Sherrod have done their part in that regard. That confidence and cohesiveness is a big reason why the Buffs have become so good at turning the page after a game and looking to the next. It’s not likely that a tough loss on Sunday will have any impact on Friday.

“Last year was the first year that I could see in our team that they not just had prepared to win and thought they could win, but they actually expected to win every single game,” Payne said. “They expected it – and that’s how this year’s team is. We expect to win every game we play because we believe in our preparation, we believe in each other and we know that we’re good enough to. That doesn’t mean you do (win every game), but I love that our team is mentally in that space that we believe we will.”

No. 25 CU Buffs women’s basketball vs. No. 8 UCLA Bruins

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

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

RECORDS: Colorado 15-4, 6-2 Pac-12; UCLA 17-3, 6-2 Pac-12.

COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 7th season (109-88; 210-201 career); UCLA — Cori Close, 12th season (250-126).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G Frida Formann, 5-11, Jr. (11.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.8 apg, 39.8% 3-point, 93.8% FT); G Tayanna Jones, 6-1, Sr. (6.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg); C Quay Miller, 6-3, Sr. (14.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.6 spg, 43.9% 3-point); G Jaylyn Sherrod, 5-7, Sr. (10.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 5.1 apg, 2.3 spg, 52.2% 3-point); C Aaronette Vonleh, 6-3, So. (11.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 59.2% FG); G Kindyll Wetta, 5-9, So. (5.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.5 spg). UCLA — F Emily Bessoir, 6-4, So. (8.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg); G Gina Conti, 5-11, Sr. (8.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.6 apg); G Londynn Jones, 5-4, Fr. (7.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg); G Charisma Osborne, 5-9, Sr. (16.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.3 spg); G Kiki Rice, 5-11, Fr. (12.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.4 spg, 47.3% FG).

NOTES: The Buffs had a seven-game winning streak snapped Sunday with a 62-49 loss at then-No. 4 Stanford. … This is just the second time in the last nine seasons that CU will host a matchup of two Associated Press-ranked teams. The only previous time was on Jan. 14, 2022, when the 22nd-ranked Buffs lost to No. 2 Stanford, 60-52. … Going back to January of 2004, CU has lost 20 consecutive games in which both teams were in the AP top 25. … CU came into last year with a 10-game losing streak to the Bruins, but swept the two-game season series. … UCLA leads the all-time series 14-7. When the Bruins are nationally ranked, they are 8-0 against the Buffs. … UCLA brings a three-game winning streak to Boulder, including a weekend sweep at the Washington schools last week. … UCLA is enjoying its second-best 20-game start under Close (Started 18-2 in 2019-20). … The Bruins are 10-0 this season when shooting at least 40% from the field.