Buffs Put in Final Preparation
IOWA CITY, Iowa—Selection Sunday was a celebration of the Colorado women's basketball team.
Since then, it has been all business for the Buffaloes, who are preparing for their first NCAA Tournament game since 2013. Colorado (22-8), the No. 7 seed in the Greensboro Region takes on 10th seeded Creighton (20-9) in opening round action on Friday (11:30 a.m. MT, ESPNEWS).
"We are thrilled to be here," head coach JR Payne said to the media before Thursday's practice. "We are thrilled to be in Iowa City. Thrilled to be in the NCAA Tournament and have the opportunity to play a team like Creighton. We're really excited to be a part of it.
"Our team is ready," Payne continued. "We feel like it's time to get going. It's time to play."
The Buffs' last game-action came back on Mar. 4, in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. Since then the team, which felt comfortable in its NCAA Tournament status, has been practicing without the knowledge of an opponent. That changed last Sunday when Colorado drew Creighton on ESPN's selections show.
"This is a unique experience for our ballclub," Payne added. "To all of a sudden have to learn an entirely new team [Creighton], an entirely new conference [BIG EAST] and an entirely new style of play. It's all very different than what we're used to. We have been very cerebral and locked in on trying to learn and understand who is Creighton? We've taken a very businesslike approach to our preparation. It's been a great couple days of practice and we're zeroing in our focus on where it needs to be."
The Buffs and Bluejays have faced off four times in series history. Both teams have two wins apiece with the Buffs taking the last meeting, 52-49, in 2011. Both of CU's wins over Creighton have come on a neutral court. But with no recent history, Coach Payne said the best Pac-12 comparison that fits Creighton is Utah.
"Creighton is a very unique team," Payne explained. "I think across the country they're a unique team and they're really good at what they do. They're different than the teams we play in our conference with the closest similarity being Utah because they also shoot the ball well and have a lot of versatility in their lineup. Our preparation has been very detail-oriented. To guard Creighton, you have to be excellent in your fundamentals."
No players on the CU roster have experienced the NCAA Tournament before this season. Last year the Buffs made a run in the WNIT, giving Colorado a taste of postseason basketball. For the Buffs' senior leaders, this season is the culmination of a vision they've been working towards for four or five years.
"It's been a very long journey," senior Peanut Tuitele stated. "It wasn't easy. We all went through a lot of adversity together. We were probably Coach J's and their staff's first-class coming in. They did a wonderful job of building us from the ground up and I think Mya [Hollingshed] and all us veterans have worked hard together to grow the culture and grow the program. I wouldn't replace this journey with anybody else. I wouldn't want to go through it with anybody else."
For Mya Hollingshed, Friday's game is the payoff to gamble made at the end of last season. Hollingshed, playing her fifth season in Boulder, passed on the WNBA draft to pursue "unfinished business."
"We wanted to put Colorado back on the map," Hollingshed added. "This is what kids dream about, playing basketball, coming to the NCAA Tournament, just doing this. It's our first step and a great first step for future Buffs that follow us after we leave and graduate."
Colorado comes into the tournament winners of eight of its last 10, with the two losses both coming against No. 2 Stanford. CU's confidence comes in at a high, despite a tough go of it last time out against Stanford.
"We're coming together and communication a lot more," Tuitele expressed. "We're executing defensively and offensively. I think we just bought in 100% into the coaches' blueprint and I think that's led [us] a long way."
Carver-Hawkeye Arena has been announced as a sellout for Friday's games.
Beth Mowins and Christy Thomaskutty will call the game for ESPN. Cory Lopez and CU Hall of Famer Shelly Sheetz will be on the Colorado Radio Network and AM 630 locally, starting with the pregame show at 11 a.m. MT.