DURHAM, N.C. – Colorado’s Tayanna Jones is hoping the last game of her college basketball career is played in Dallas, the site of this year’s Final Four.
With her career down to the final days or weeks, however, the opportunity to play in North Carolina is special.
“I am so excited honestly. It’s just such a blessing,” said Jones, a CU senior who grew up in Selma, N.C. “I felt it honestly when I was watching the bracket (selection show) and stuff; I was like, yeah, I thought they were going to put us in North Carolina. I just had a good feeling.”
No. 21 and sixth-seeded Colorado will face 11th-seeded Middle Tennessee on Saturday night at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium (5 p.m., ESPNews).
Cameron Indoor is located about 68 miles from North Johnston High School, where Jones starred before graduating in 2018.
“I’ve been here several times,” she said. ‘I used to watch the men play all the time. It’s a really fun atmosphere, obviously with the Cameron Crazies. Duke has a good culture.”
Jones spent her first two years of college at Georgetown and got a chance to play in North Carolina once. In the first game of her sophomore year, the Hoyas played at Davidson, but she only saw the court for 4 minutes.
Jones is now a starter for the Buffs, and Davidson is three hours from home, so this one will be even more special.
“I’m gonna have a lot of family (at the game); a lot of close people, probably about 20 people,” she said. “I’m excited. It’ll be good. … I’m just grateful. I honestly thank God for the opportunity in general, just because it’s close to home, last year in college.
“I always wanted my mom to see my last college game and I think it’s interesting how it worked out. For us, our mentality is to keep going. … Our mentality is just, we’re gonna be focused, locked in and getting ready, and then take it day by day, but definitely it’s good to play in front of my family for sure.”
If the Buffs beat Middle Tennessee, they’ll play a second game at Cameron Indoor on Monday against Duke or Iona.
The Buffs are focused on getting a win, but some of them did take the time to relish the fact they get to play in one of the most historic venues in college basketball.
“Yeah, we’re playing at Duke and that’s all you hear about growing up as a kid, more so men’s side, but it’s just another opportunity to get out here,” CU’s Jaylyn Sherrod said.
CU’s Quay Miller added, “You always hear about Duke and this arena, but I’ve never played here and I’m excited to play in a new gym.”
CU has great respect for MTSU, which won the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles. But, head coach JR Payne said the Buffs feel prepared after going through the Pac-12 guantlet.
Widely considered among the best conferences in the country, the Pac-12 features six Top 25 teams: Stanford (No. 5), Utah (8), UCLA (14), CU (21), Washington State (23) and Arizona (25). All six made the NCAA Tournament, as did USC.
“I could go through every single team in our conference and talk about why they’ve helped us be a better team this year,” Payne said. “There’s size that we’ve played against. There’s athleticism. Every single team is extremely well coached. You have to be adaptable as coaches as players.
“I just think that we’ve seen a lot of different things throughout conference play, whether that’s zone defenses, zone offenses, press defenses, press offense – all the different types of things you want to have seen prior to getting to this point, we’ve seen it.”