CU Making Memphis Home
MEMPHIS — Colorado's selection to the Memphis Regional of the WNIT seemed like an odd placement, geographically. Other designated sites like Fort Worth, Texas, or Rockford, Illinois made more sense based on travel plans.
But the trip to Memphis has been a homecoming of sorts for the Buffaloes. Although 1,066 miles separate Boulder from Memphis, the Buffs are playing in front of fans for pretty much the first time all season long. Player guests were allowed late in the season at the CU Events Center and the Pac-12 Tournament, but My Town Home Movers Fieldhouse has seen the biggest CU support all season.
A partial reason for that is head coach JR Payne's ties to the state. Coach Payne spent her summers in Tennessee and has family members that have converged to Memphis to watch the Buffaloes. CU's two games in the WNIT are more than her family in Boulder have been able to see in person all year long.
"I've spent every summer of my life in Tennessee," Payne commented. "So, it's almost like coming home in a way. These are people I haven't seen in many years. It's been really fun to have cousins, aunts and uncles in the stands. Some of the younger ones made signs for our players. It's been really fun to have that and have some of the player families here as well."
The Buffs might not have their blue suede shoes or touched foot on Beale St., but the Memphis surroundings have become a second home of sorts.
"I think we're really comfortable with our environment," Payne explained. "We've gotten into a rhythm of having shootaround in this gym and play in that gym. Then pregame meals and meetings and all that. We're kind of in a rhythm right now."
Colorado showed little signs of adversity in its opening-round 68-45 win over Louisiana. Coach Payne was able to get everyone on the floor and get that postseason inexperience shaken off. The round of 16 was a tighter fought game against Nebraska, but it was won in large part without the use of Mya Hollingshed. CU got major contributions from players like Lesila Finau and Charlotte Whittaker, aiding the Buffs' efforts against Nebraska. Finau, who averages 5.5 points per game, scored 12 against Nebraska, while Whittaker who is averaging 4.9 points this season, scored 15 off the bench.
"Coaches always want to be able to play as many players as they can," Payne noted. "That way we know who we can trust to contribute. So, it's been great for us to have every single player on our team get to play on the court. I trust that anyone whose name is called will be ready and will be confident to step in and do what they need to do to be successful."
CU will meet Ole Miss for the first time in program history on Monday (6 p.m. MT). The winner will move onto the WNIT Semifinals and remain in Memphis. The three other regional champions will then make their way to Memphis to close out the tournament.
The fact that there is not further travel for the Buffs in this tournament is something that the coaching staff gladly welcomed.
"We were surprised but happy when we were chosen to come to Memphis," Payne admitted. "We knew that if we could win games, we could stay and not have to get on a plane and fly again. I think we're in kind of a flow. We feel like we're in a rhythm and we're playing well and as long as we can continue to play well, we're going to stay in that same good rhythm."
The current run in the WNIT is CU's first visit to the quarterfinals since the 2012 season. CU is now 16-6 all-time in the tournament.
On this Date: The last time the Buffs played on Mar. 22 came back in the 2014 WNIT. Colorado defeated a JR Payne-coached Southern Utah squad, 79-68 in Boulder.