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Women’s basketball: CU Buffs ready for marquee matchup with Stanford

Colorado head coach JR Payne talks to her team during a timeout against Arizona during a women's basketball game at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz., on Feb. 19, 2023. (University of Colorado Athletics)
Colorado head coach JR Payne talks to her team during a timeout against Arizona during a women’s basketball game at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz., on Feb. 19, 2023. (University of Colorado Athletics)

When the Pac-12 announced its conference schedule for women’s basketball on Oct. 11, there may not have been anyone who expected a Thursday afternoon in Boulder to have so much at stake.

The Colorado men’s basketball game on Thursday night against USC is sure to draw more fans – and it’s a big game for those teams – but it is the 3 p.m. matchup between the CU and Stanford women that is the main event on the Events Center floor.

“I know our marketing department and everyone in the university athletics department has worked hard to make sure that people know, 3 p.m., be there,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “Whatever that looks like, get there. I think it’s going to be a great game. It’s going to be great environment. And yeah, it’s gonna be fun.”

Ranked No. 21, CU (21-6, 12-4 Pac-12) is in third place in the conference, two games behind first-place and No. 3 Stanford (26-3, 14-2) with two games to play. In between them is No. 8 Utah (23-3, 13-3).

For the first time since the 1996-97 season, CU goes into the final week of the regular season with a chance to at least share the conference title. That Buffs’ team in 1997 was on the tail end of a nine-year run of finishing no lower than tied for second in the conference. (CU’s last conference title came in 1995).

This CU team, however, has already exceeded expectations. Regardless of how this weekend turns out, the Buffs will finish in the top four, with a first-round bye in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament. In the preseason, coaches and media picked CU to finish eighth after losing three multi-year starters to graduation.

“I think everyone outside of the program believed that we would be down compared to last year because of that,” Payne said. “I think those of us in the program felt like we had everything we needed to be really good and it would just take time to make sure people were comfortable in new roles: new leadership roles, new scoring roles, all of that.

“I think we knew all along that we had the potential to be really good.”

For much of this season, the Buffs have been really good. They’re a lock to make a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, something the program hasn’t done since four in a row from 2001-04.

The Buffs, however, are far from satisfied, especially after a humbling 61-42 loss at Arizona on Sunday.

“What I try to tell the team is when we have games like that, it’s not because we’re not a good team or a good program,” senior center Quay Miller said. “We were missing shots we usually make and I think with that it just comes with focus. We just need to be more focused. It’s nothing besides, just, focus.”

CU hasn’t last two in a row yet this season, and is embracing the challenge ahead as it looks to avoid a second consecutive defeat on Thursday.

“It’s always fun,” senior point guard Jaylyn Sherrod said of playing Stanford. “I carry that underdog mentality at this point across my forehead. Going into the game, knowing what you’re gonna get, knowing you’ve got to be at your best … it just brings a sense of competitiveness and a sense of just wanting to showcase who this team is. I feel like a lot of people are still questioning us and don’t really know what we’re building here. But we know what we are and we know the team we can be, so it’s just about going out there and proving it.”

That’s never easy against Stanford, which is an annual contender for the national title and the marquee program in the Pac-12 year after year.

“Stanford is No. 3 for a reason,” Payne said. “They’re really good, really deep, really big, really everything you want a team to be. And so it’s always a tough matchup.

“We just are a team that likes a challenge and so we always love to play any team that’s successful like they are. They definitely have set the bar as far as the standard of excellence in this conference for women’s basketball, so we’re excited for that opportunity to play them at home in a very meaningful game. It’s gonna be great.”

No. 21 CU Buffs women’s basketball vs. No. 3 Stanford Cardinal

TIPOFF: Thursday, 3 p.m., CU Events Center.

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

RECORDS: Colorado 21-6, 12-4 Pac-12; Stanford 26-3, 14-2 Pac-12

COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 7th season (115-90; 216-203 career); Stanford — Tara VanDerveer, 36th season (1,031-211; 1,183-262)

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G Frida Formann, 5-11, Jr. (11.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.9 apg, 38.4% 3-point, 94.1% FT); C Quay Miller, 6-3, Sr. (14.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.5 spg, 38.2% 3-point); G Jaylyn Sherrod, 5-7, Sr. (10.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.4 spg, 40.5% 3-point); C Aaronette Vonleh, 6-3, So. (11.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 57.5% FG); G Kindyll Wetta, 5-9, So. (5.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.5 spg). Stanford — F Cameron Brink, 6-4, Jr. (14.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 3.5 bpg); F Kiki Iriafen, 6-3, So. (7.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg); G Haley Jones, 6-1, Sr. (13.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3.9 apg); G Hannah Jump, 6-0 , Sr. (11.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 42.3% 3-point); G Talana Lepolo, 5-7, Fr. (4.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 3.7 apg).

NOTES: CU returns home looking to rebound from a 61-42 loss at Arizona on Sunday. … This is the final weekend of the regular season. The Buffs will complete the regular season by hosting California on Saturday (Noon, Pac-12 Network). … CU is 5-26 all-time against Stanford, including 1-21 since joining the Pac-12. The Buffs are 3-9 at home against the Cardinal. … Stanford has won the last five meetings, including a 62-49 victory on Jan. 22 at Stanford. Sherrod had 16 points, while Vonleh posted a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds). The Cardinal blocked 14 shots, the second-most ever by a CU opponent. Brink, Stanford’s all-time blocks leader, had six of those. … Stanford can clinch the No. 1 seed for next week’s Pac-12 Tournament with a win Thursday or Saturday at Utah. The Cardinal are seeking a third consecutive regular season title. … CU can’t climb to the first seed, but would clinch a top-three seed with a win against the Cardinal. … As of Wednesday, Stanford was at No. 5 in the NET rankings, while CU is at No. 21.