Buffs Hopeful for Tournament Slot
BOULDER — Things didn't go according to plan for the Colorado women's basketball team at last week's Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. The Buffaloes got ousted in the first round, packed up and headed back to Boulder.
Colorado, the No. 6 seed in the tournament, was picked by many to win a game or two in Las Vegas and help solidify a spot in the NCAA Tournament field. Now, CU will sit and await its fate with the NCAA Selection Show set for Monday (5 p.m. MT, ESPN) and WNIT bids coming shortly after.
"We were all extremely disappointed, almost to the point of heartbroken with the way we played [in Las Vegas]," head coach JR Payne reiterated. "We were extremely prepared. Our team knew the scout and everything that was going to be important to our success and we weren't able to go out there and execute."
A week removed from the loss to Washington, the Buffaloes remain focused with the intent of playing more basketball this season. The team returned to the hardwood on Monday and it's been back to business as usual.
"We decided as a group that we wouldn't allow our disappointment to affect the opportunity that lay ahead of us," Payne noted. "That was the biggest shift we had to make, and we've had a couple of really great days of practice since then."
Postseason prospects haven't necessarily been bright for the Buffs in recent history. Colorado finished 16-14 last season and was in-line to make its first postseason run in the WNIT since Payne's first year at the helm in 2016-17.
Then COVID-19 struck, shutting down collegiate and professional sports.
This season CU has been able to navigate the COVID shuffle, finishing 10-10 on the year. The Buffs had six games called off this season, but none at the fault of the Buffaloes.
"They made great choices all year long to be able to continue to play basketball," Payne said after the Washington game. "I'm just incredibly proud of them for that. It's been very difficult emotionally and physically for everyone that's played this year. I'm proud to be their coach and hopefully, we'll continue to keep playing."
CU is currently 52 in the NET rankings. The Buffs thrust themselves into the national spotlight this season with a 77-72 overtime win over then-No. 1 Stanford in Boulder. Colorado almost completed the Stanford sweep, falling a tight game to the then-No. 6 Cardinal, 62-54. CU entered the Pac-12 Tournament on a four-game winning streak, its longest streak in the conference since the 2012-13 season.
"I think everyone's just excited about the opportunity that we've created for ourselves," Payne explained. "It's not easy to make those changes [in the program], especially when you're committed to doing things the right way and not taking shortcuts. We've recruited great young women in our program that represent us really well on and off the court. I think we're all just really excited that all of our hard work is putting us in a position to have these opportunities."
Inclusion in this year's postseason tournaments would be the cherry on top for players like Mya Hollingshed, Annika Jank and Aubrey Knight. All three players came to Boulder the same year and have navigated all the highs and lows with the program.
"I think it shows a lot of loyalty on their behalf," Payne said of the group. "They stayed committed to what they initially agreed to. It shows a lot of faith that they have in us and we have in them. We have poured a lot into each other. Not just from a basketball standpoint but as individuals, as women. They've committed to building this program and that speaks volumes to their character and loyalty."
The NCAA Tournament remains a full field of 64 teams with everyone traveling to San Antonio, Texas. The first round (March 21-22) will be split between sites in San Antonio, Austin and San Marcos. The remaining rounds will be played exclusively in San Antonio.
This year's WNIT field will be slimmed from 64 to 32. The tournament, which traditionally is played on campus sites, will be split into four eight-team regions. The regionals will be played in Charlotte, N.C., Fort Worth, Texas, Memphis, Ten. And Rockford, Ill. Each team in the tournament gets a minimum of two games. The four regional champions will advance to one site for the semifinals and championship game.