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Marching On

Mar 11, 2022

BOULDER—JR Payne and the Colorado women's basketball team continued postseason preparations this week with anticipation of the Buffaloes' first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2013, lying ahead on Selection Sunday. 

Colorado (22-8) is in a comfortable position for the first time in a long time when discussing NCAA Tournament possibilities. CU boasts a solid resume with a 29 NET ranking and are winners of eight of its last 10 games – with both losses coming to No. 2 Stanford. ESPN's Charlie Creme predicts CU to be a 10 seed in his latest bracketology (Mar. 11). 

Colorado has rallied all season behind the disappointing first-round loss to Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament. The team's early exit last season almost certainly eliminated Colorado from the field of 64, but the Buffs were still able to get a taste of postseason basketball with the team's invite to the WNIT. 

The trip to the WNIT helped the Buffs get two postseason wins under their belts and left the team wanting more in 2021-22. 

"I think anytime you play in the postseason, it's a real positive for your team," Payne explained. "Whether that's the WNIT or the NCAA Tournament. Our goal last year was to be in the NCAA Tournament. We made some mistakes and shot ourselves in the foot. That cost us. I think the benefit of that is that our team used that all year long as a motivator to make sure we stay focused because it wasn't a bunch of injuries that cost us last year, it was mental mistakes down the stretch of games. Certain circumstances that we felt like we were in control of. We've used that all year long to make sure that we stayed locked in and motivated to do the job at hand."

Sunday, the team will gather to watch the Selection Show and become the first CU team to make back-to-back postseasons the 2013 NCAA Tournament and the 2014 WNIT. Awaiting "Colorado" to get called on national television will be a new experience for every player. 

"It's an amazing feeling [the lead up to the NCAA Tournament," senior Peanut Tuitele noted. "There was a lot of hard work that we put in. As freshman Sila [Finau], Mya [Hollingshed], Aubrey [Knight], Anni [Jank], myself, and even people before us, put in a lot of work to get where we are now as a program. I'm just super fortunate that I'm a part of this group and a part of this team. It's a special team that I don't think I'll ever forget. I'm super proud of who we became and all the hard work that we put in to get to this place right now."

CU freshman Kindyll Wetta watched from afar as the Buffs went through a rollercoaster of a March a year ago. This season she wasted no time in helping push CU across the finish line and avoid any repeat postseason letdown. 

"It's really cool for all the seniors, Mya in her fifth year and even Aubrey too who haven't even gone through this and been to an NCAA Tournament," Wetta said. "It's cool too as a freshman to be a part of that in my first year and not have to have gone through what they all went through the past four or five years."

All the Buffs did this season was rip off 13 straight wins to open the year and be the last undefeated men's or women's Division I squad left standing. Colorado spent three weeks in the AP Top 25, topping at No. 22. CU pulled off the season sweep of UCLA and USC for the first time and picked up ranked wins over No. 25 Oregon and No. 14 Arizona. CU's 22 wins are the most since the 2012-13 season (25-7) and the team finished fifth in the Pac-12, marking its best conference finish since 2012-13 (fourth). 

Fifth-year senior Mya Hollingshed earned her second All-Pac-12 honor and led CU's offensive efforts with 14.1 ppg this season. The addition of Washington transfer Quay Miller was felt throughout the season as she was named the Pac-12's Sixth Player of the Year and honorable mention Pac-12. Wetta made her mark this season, becoming the first player since the Pac-10 became the Pac-12 to earn All-Freshman and All-Defensive accolades.  

The Buffs picked up their first Pac-12 Tournament win since 2018 last week with an opening-round win over Washington. CU turned around and beat No. 14 Arizona 45-43 in a defensive struggle before bowing out to eventual Pac-12 champion Stanford in the semifinals. 

CU returned from Las Vegas last Saturday and took a few days off to rest before getting back to practice. 

"At this point in the season, there's a lot of things that unless you've experienced it before you don't necessarily know how to navigate," Payne added. "The experience of last year is helping us prepare for this season. Also being able to play with your backs against the wall as far as every game being one-and-done is great preparation. Knowing that we can win in March is also a good experience going into next week."

Payne and the Buffs are not going to reinvent what they spent the entire calendar year building up. The Buffs know who they are and what they have to do to be successful, wherever the NCAA sends them next week. 

"I don't think there's any risk of us trying to be something we're not," Payne expressed. "We have six days or so before we might play again but there won't be any real reinventing of the wheel. It's like let's just get better. Attack our weaknesses and still try to build on our strengths and make sure we feel good and are ready to play."

This season is the first time the women's tournament bids will be decided on Sunday. Previously, tournament seeds and pairings were released on the following Monday. 

ESPN will host the first hour of the Selection Show starting at 6 p.m. MT. The broadcast will shift over to ESPN2 for the second hour at 7 p.m. MT.