CU Buffs women fueled by unfinished business The Denver Post

LAS VEGAS — Tears flowed and heads hung in the Colorado women’s basketball locker room at Michelob Ultra Arena on March 3, 2021.

A surprising 68-54 loss to underdog Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament was a crushing blow to the Buffaloes, who harbored some NCAA Tournament hopes a year ago.

The Buffs haven’t forgotten that feeling as they return to Vegas for the start of the 2022 Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday. Seeded fifth, CU (20-7) will once again face underdog Washington (7-15), the 12th seed.

“I was talking to one of the coaches and I was like, ‘You know, sometimes you get put in the same situation again to see if you change the outcome,’” CU point guard Jaylyn Sherrod said. “It’s crazy how we’re playing Washington again. It’s completely two different teams (from last year), but … I’m excited.”

Losing to the Huskies in the first round a year ago was one of several missed opportunities by the 2020-21 Buffaloes, but they’ve rebounded to put together their best campaign in nearly a decade this season.

“A hundred percent, (the loss to Washington) has helped us all year long, to be honest,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “I think that this team has used that loss and a couple of others that we knew we let slip last year, we’ve used that all year to talk about staying focused, staying dialed in, doing what we need to do.”

For the first time since 2013, CU has won 20 games and put together a winning conference record. Their No. 5 seed is the second-best they’ve had in their 11 years in the Pac-12 (CU was No. 4 in 2013).

CU also comes to the conference tournament as a projected NCAA Tournament team for the first time since 2013, but believes some success in Las Vegas is needed to secure a spot.

“I think the approach of this team is just get it done,” Sherrod said. “We’ve got a job to do. We talk about it every day how we have unfinished business.”

That’s why the Buffs aren’t overlooking the Huskies. They defeated Washington, 66-43, on Feb. 6 in Boulder, but Washington has played better down the stretch.

Last weekend, the Huskies won at California and went toe-to-toe with No. 2 Stanford — on the road — until the end.

“It’s not like they’re not a capable team of beating people,” Sherrod said. “They’re just a new team and they’re still trying to find a way and they have a lot of good pieces.

“It’s always hard going into the tournament and being able to predict what’s going to happen, because it’s always very unpredictable game to game.”

CU is riding a wave of confidence, however. The Buffs are 6-1 in their last seven games, with the win against Washington kicking off that stretch. They’ve played their best basketball of the season in that stretch and it has carried over into practices this week.

“(Monday) I would say was one of our best practices of the year,” Payne said. “We were locked in, our energy was great. We were locked in, we were scoring, we were executing. It felt like a team that’s really locked in, so that was really great. … We feel good. We’re excited.”

After a dismal 1-6 stretch in the middle of the season, Sherrod said the Buffs have gained a lot of confidence in recent weeks. The Buffs are playing exceptional defense, getting their transition offense going and multiple players are stepping up each game.

“We’re known for being aggressive, we’re known for being physical and we just had to get back to that,” she said. “So I think that’s really what it came down to.”

As CU learned a year ago, however, winning on Wednesday will require the Buffs to play even better.

“I think it’s just going in focused with the mentality of unfinished business and knowing how many times we’ve gone in that locker room at the end of the game with sad faces and feeling defeated, in a way,” Sherrod said. “That’s just the mentality and approach of not letting that happen again.

“I’m very excited to be able to go into this tournament and feel like we’re a true threat and I feel like people in the conference feel like that. I don’t know if that’s always been the case with us, but I really feel like going into this tournament, we really feel like we can be a threat to actually go all the way.”

CU Buffs women’s basketball vs. Washington Huskies

TIPOFF: Wednesday, 1 p.m. MST, at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.

BROADCAST: TV – Pac-12 Network. Radio – 630 AM

RECORDS: Colorado 20-7 (9-7 Pac-12); Washington 7-15 (2-12 Pac-12)

COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 6th season (92-82; 193-195 career). Washington – Tina Langley, 1st season (7-15; 133-76 career).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado – G Sila Finau, 5-9, Sr. (4.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg); G Frida Formann, 5-11, So. (7.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg); F Mya Hollingshed, 6-3, Sr. (14.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg; 1.1 spg, 1.0 bpg); C Quay Miller, 6-3, Jr. (11.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg); G Tameiya Sadler, 5-8, So. (4.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.3 spg); G Jaylyn Sherrod, 5-7, Jr. (7.4 ppg; 2.7 rpg; 3.9 apg, 1.8 spg); F Peanut Tuitele, 6-1, Sr. (7.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G Kindyll Wetta, 5-9, Fr. (4.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.9 apg, 2.1 spg). Washington – C Nancy Mulkey, 6-9, Sr. (10.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.0 bpg); G Trinity Oliver, 5-9, Jr. (4.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg); G Missy Peterson, 5-11, Sr. (6.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg); F Lauren Schwartz, 5-11, So. (10.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.4 apg); F Haley Van Dyke, 6-1, Jr. (11.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.4 spg); G T.T. Watkins, 5-11, Jr. (4.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg).

NOTES: This is the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. … The Buffs are 6-10 all-time at the Pac-12 Tournament, including 5-5 in the first round. … CU has lost in the first round in each of the past three seasons, including last year against Washington. … Washington is 8-10 in Pac-12 Tournament history, including 6-3 in the first round. … This is the fourth time CU has met Washington in the conference tournament. The Huskies are 2-1 in those games. … In last year’s first-round matchup, Miller and Sadler led Washington to a 68-54 upset of the Buffs. That duo transferred to CU last summer. … CU won the lone matchup this season, 66-43, in Boulder on Feb. 6. Hollingshed had 20 points and Miller 18, while Mulkey had 16 for the Huskies. … CU finished the regular season with a 6-1 record in its last seven games and is currently on a four-game winning streak. … Washington had an 11-game losing streak before going 2-1 in its last three of the regular season. The Huskies won two in a row before a 63-56 loss at No. 2 Stanford on Saturday. They had a one-point lead before getting outscored 8-0 in the final 63 seconds.

Pac-12 Women’s Tournament

Michelob ULTRA Arena, Las Vegas, Nev.

(All times MST; all games on Pac-12 Network unless noted)

First round, Wednesday

Game 1: No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 Washington, 1 p.m.

Game 2: No. 8 Oregon State vs. No. 9 Arizona State, 3:30 p.m.

Game 3: No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 USC, 7 p.m.

Game 4: No. 6 Utah vs. No. 11 California, 9:30 p.m.

Quarterfinals, Thursday

Game 5: No. 4 Arizona vs. Game 1 Winner, 1 p.m.

Game 6: No. 1 Stanford vs. Game 2 Winner, 3:30 p.m.

Game 7: No. 2 Oregon vs. Game 3 Winner, 7 p.m.

Game 8: No. 3 Washington State vs. Game 4 Winner, 9:30 p.m.

Semifinals, Friday

Game 9: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 7 p.m.

Game 10: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 9:30 p.m.

Championship, Sunday, March 6

Game 11: Semifinal winners, 4 p.m. (TV: ESPN2)

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