Buffs Do A Quick About Face, Return To California
BOULDER - The No. 22/23 Colorado women's basketball team is just a few days removed from two tough losses at then-No. 7 California and then-No. 6 Stanford last weekend.
But the Buffs haven't had much time to settle; after Thursday night's practice the team was headed to Los Angeles for another pair of Pac-12 Conference games.
On Friday, Colorado will take on its third straight ranked opponent in No. 18/19 UCLA. On Sunday, the Buffs play at Southern California.
Due to both the level of competition and the stress of travel, this two-week stretch would be a challenge for any team, but CU head coach Linda Lappe said her Buffs can handle the pressure.
"Playing four games in a row on the road, we haven't done that yet," Lappe said. "It's going to be an important weekend in terms of making sure we stay recovered, stay healthy, that we're eating right, getting enough sleep and just taking care of ourselves . . . It's also going to be important that we're mentally tough."
Stanford and Cal have dealt the Buffs their only four conference losses of the season, two last weekend and two earlier in January. Lappe, however, said her players have improved because of those losses.
"We learned a lot from last weekend, and I think now we're ready to take that next step and really maximize off any opportunity that we get," Lappe said. "We've gotten better in our offense, moving the ball and taking what our defense gives us, and being more versatile in how we're scoring."
UCLA won't be a much easier opponent, but the CU women can perhaps say they have their two most intimidating teams out of the way.
Freshman forward Jamee Swan, however, said the effort she and her team put into their play shouldn't differ depending on the opponent's record. Swan, who led the Buffs in scoring at Stanford with 14 points, just takes the season one game at a time.
"I play my best, it doesn't really matter who's on the other side," Swan said. "I just think that we need to stick together as a team . . . I think we've got it, we're pretty good together."
UCLA is currently 15-4 overall and 6-2 in conference play, its only two losses also coming against Cal and Stanford in late January. The Bruins demonstrated their strength in non-conference play earlier this season with wins over then-No. 11 Oklahoma and then-No. 12 Texas.
Since starting Pac-12 play, UCLA has swept both Washington schools, both Oregon schools and both Arizona schools. Senior guard/forward Markel Walker leads the Bruins in scoring at 11.7 points per game and leads the Pac-12 in both assists and steals.
But the Buffs are ranked, too, and for good reason. CU leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense at 52.1 points per outing, and it picked up its own top-10 win over then-No. 8 Louisville during the non-conference season.
Colorado's 15-4 overall record is its best after 19 games since the 2003-04 NCAA Tournament season.
Senior guard Chucky Jeffery said her team hasn't forgotten its potential, and its confidence is not about to be shaken.
"Two road trips back-to-back is always hard, especially when you're playing three ranked opponents out of four, but we're ranked as well," Jeffery said. "We've got to make wins on the road, that's what good teams do."
And though some teams would shudder at the thought of four straight games away from home, Jeffery said her team thrives outside of the Coors Events Center.
"Sometimes I think that we do we play better on the road because we have a different kind of focus," Jeffery said. "It's just us, and we know that we're all that we have. There's more of a togetherness."
Even with last weekend's losses, the Buffs remain 13-9 in their last 22 true road contests. Leaving the home court, while it can be a struggle, is something the Colorado women have learned to overcome.
Lappe said that maintaining a positive mentality at this point in the season is as important as maintaining a decent record, though a win over a ranked conference opponent certainly wouldn't hurt.
"If we can stay together, keep a great outlook and a great attitude and keep having fun through January, then we're going to be in a great position to do some great things in February and March," Lappe said.
Friday's game is set for 9 p.m. MST and will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.