Buffs Open NCAA Tournament on Tuesday
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Colorado squares off with South Alabama to open the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday. The Buffaloes, making their second consecutive tournament appearance and 12th overall, will kick off against the Jaguars at 5 p.m. MT live on NCAA.com.
Colorado (9-5-2) carries a four-game unbeaten streak into the tournament. The Buffs controlled their destiny for the better part of the last two weeks, knowing they needed to get results on the board to make the postseason tournament. CU did its part, going 3-0-1 down the stretch and the NCAA reciprocated last Monday, awarding Colorado a coveted at-large bid.
"We were pretty excited to see our name come up," head coach Danny Sanchez commented. "We felt pretty good about making the tournament, but you never know because there was no RPI this year. There were so many factors that went into it [selections]. To have the players go through all of it [the season] and now have a little bit of a reward at the end is exciting for them, but they're also not content just to make it. I think we want to do well here and see what happens. I think that if there is a year that something could happen, I think this is the year."
The Buffs scored three top-25 wins this season, making the most in program history, despite the shortened season. CU upset No. 10 California on the road and then got home wins over No. 14 USC and No. 17 Arizona State. CU's 3-2 overtime win against the Trojans catapulted the Buffs to a 5-2-1 finish. Colorado has nine goals in the stretch scored by five different players. Pac-12 All-Freshman Shyra James led the team, scoring three of her team-high five goals in the final eight matches.
Unlike CU's recent NCAA Tournament trips, the team doesn't get to play from the comfort of home. Previously, the Buffs have been able to host the first-round games just a few days after the selections. This season all 48 teams travel to North Carolina, with the Buffs' last game more than a week old.
"We've been playing NCAA Tournament games the last two weeks," Sanchez added. "We couldn't drop any results and we did it. I think it was good to be able to kind of catch our breath a little. We got out here yesterday, train today and obviously play tomorrow night."
The time off was echoed by redshirt junior Libby Geraghty, but she's certain the Buffs will be ready for the moment.
"It's been a while since we played," Geraghty expressed. "It feels like a month since we played. Every team that makes the tournament is a good team. There are not going to be any easy games. It's going to take a lot out of everybody on our team, but we've been playing some of our best soccer lately. As long as we bring it like we're capable of, we can compete with anybody in the country."
CU has outscored opponents 17-12 this season. A lot of that is credited to CU's backline and goaltending led by First Team All-Pac-12 defender Hannah Sharts and Third Team All-Pac-12 Goaltender Dani Hansen. Sharts, who scored four goals early on for CU, has played more than 90 minutes or more in 14 of CU's 16 matches and is second on the team with nine points (4 G, 1 A). Hansen ranks fifth in the NCAA with 90 saves in her first season in the Black and Gold. She leads the Pac-12 (11th NCAA) with her seven solo shutouts and boasts to top save percentage (.882) in the conference.
South Alabama (13-8-1) locked up its NCAA Tournament bid by winning the Sun Belt Conference in November. The Jaguars went 10-3-1 in the fall and resumed their season in February. South Alabama lost its last two by a combined 6-0 deficit to Auburn and Ole Miss, leading up to the tournament. Brenna McPartlan leads the Jags with 11 goals and nine assists.
The winner of Tuesday night will advance to take on Oklahoma State (12-3-1) on Friday (5 p.m. MT).