NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament notebook: Colorado rebounds from rough stretch to make NCAA Tournament
By Susan Harman
IOWA CITY—You may not remember, but Colorado was the last undefeated women’s basketball team in Division I.
You may not remember because the Buffaloes took their 13-0 record into a game against defending national champion Stanford and proceeded to lose six of their next seven games.
Yet the Buffs rebounded to post 22 victories and reach the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals after beating Arizona, last year’s national runner-up. They are in Iowa City for the first round of the NCAA tournament to play Creighton at 12:30 p.m. Friday. The winner of that game plays the winner of the Iowa/Illinois State game on Sunday.
Coach JR Payne said the roller coaster began when an extra game was sandwiched into the schedule after the loss to Stanford. The team went on the road and lost two overtime games at Oregon State and at Arizona State.
“We had early success and then two heart-breaking losses,” Payne said. “That just jumped on our backs. So how do you recover?”
She said the team looked inward and asked what it can do better. Upperclassmen assumed the leadership and made sure there were no recriminations and that players were held accountable.
“Then we started to improve,” Payne said.
“We just watched a lot of film,” CU star forward Mya Hollingshed said. “Seeing what worked in the beginning and going back to that, not trying to do anything new or trying to change anything per se.”
The Buffs won eight of their last 10 games, losing only to Stanford twice.
“We’re coming together,” senior forward Peanut Tuitele said. “We’re communicating a lot more. We’re executing defensively and offensively. And I think we just bought in 100 percent to the coaches’ blueprint.”
“We’re valuing the time we have together, knowing where we’re trying to go, knowing that every game matters,” Hollingshed said.
*Hollingshed, a 6-foot-3 “super senior,” is one of the most versatile players in the country. She leads her team in scoring (14.1), rebounding (7.5) and 3-point shooting (.398). “She’s a unique talent,” Payne said. “She’s really grown and blossomed. She took a lot on her shoulders; she’s done everything for us.”
Both Tuitele and Hollingshed were among Payne’s first recruits after taking over the program from native Iowan and Buff alum Linda Lappe. In Lappe’s last season the Buffaloes were 7-23. Payne didn’t have overnight success, but her first class stayed the course and finally found success.
“I think it’s been a very long journey,” Tuitele said. “It wasn’t easy. We all went through a lot of adversity together. (The coaching staff) did a wonderful job building us from the ground up, and I think Mya and the veterans, we worked really hard together as a unit to grow the culture and to grow the program. I just think I wouldn’t want to go through it with anybody else.”
Hollingshed, from Houston, confessed she knew nothing about Colorado or the Pac-12 when she had her visit to CU. Payne sold her on a vision of success.
“We wanted to put Colorado back on the map,” Hollingshed said.
*Salted or unsalted? Colorado senior Peanut Tuitele’s given name is Sirena. But she’s been called by her nickname nearly since she was born.
“When my dad first saw me he said I was oddly shaped like a peanut,” she said. “So he called me that.”
Growing up she fought to be recognized as Sirena but she came around to the idea.
“As I got older I embraced it as a basketball player,” she said. “As a basketball player, on the court, ever since I picked up a ball I’ve been Peanut.”
Peanut, from Chico, Calif., is 6-1 and not someone to be trifled with under the basket