“A terrific team” in Colorado stands in way of Iowa women advancing to Elite Eight
Buffs lost to Creighton in first round last season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena
By Susan Harman
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa fans saw Colorado last year in the NCAA Tournament, but it was short-lived as the Buffaloes lost their first-round game at Carver-Hawkeye arena to Creighton. This year the experience will be up close and personal in the form of an NCAA Sweet 16 matchup Friday at 6:30 p.m. in Seattle.
Sixth-seeded Colorado advanced Monday night by beating three seed Duke, 61-53, in overtime in Durham, N.C., in what turned out to be a defensive slugfest. Colorado shot 36.5 percent, and Duke shot 31.7 percent. The Buffs were 3-of-11 from 3-point range. Colorado outrebounded Duke by nine.
“A terrific team,” Duke coach Kara Lawson said. “They are very complete. I thought they played with great aggression, and as you know we came up a little short.”
Colorado built a big lead early only to see Duke catch up. But the Buffs survived a last-possession open jumper by Duke to go to overtime, and there they dominated.
“I’m so unbelievably proud of our tenacity, our ability to just never wilt,” Colorado coach JR Payne said. “When things get hard, we dig in. We lean into each other and we just continue to fight and compete every single possession.”
The Buffaloes are 25-8 and have been ranked 20th or 21st in the second half of the season after posting some impressive Pac-12 victories over Utah, Arizona and UCLA. They do not have any opponents in common with Iowa.
Defense, rebounding and balanced scoring are CU’s hallmarks. Let’s talk rebounding. The Buffs have two strong, 6-foot-3 posts in Quay Miller and Aaronette Vonleh. Miller had 14 boards against Duke and led her team with 17 points.
“I thought she imposed her will on the glass very well,” Lawson said. “Obviously watching film of her, I think she averaged 10 a game in the Pac-12. So we know that she laces them up and gets 10 rebounds, that’s what she does. Credit to her, her physicality, her pursuit, just her competitive mindset to keep going after and pursuing those balls.”
The Buffaloes outrebound opponents by an average of five per game, but dominated the Blue Devils.
Defensively, CU showed man-to-man early and then went to a zone in the final quarter and held Duke to seven points.
“The type of defense we played when we came out early is the type of defense we like to defend,” Payne said. “I mean, we want to be highly disruptive. We want to pressure. You know everything is pretty scout driven, though, so there’s times we don’t necessarily play like that. But it is our intensity. We are the ultimate underdog.”
“Our zone is not a typical zone,” senior point guard Jaylyn Sherrod said. “It’s a very high-pressure, very aggressive. Once we got to that it really got them out of their rhythm. We don’t run zone a lot, but it’s something we have in our back pocket.”
This mindset should start to sound familiar, like Georgia familiar. While Georgia was 100 percent zone, Colorado will switch up, but its commitment to flying around and pressuring is something the Hawkeyes have seen.
Offensively the two posts are the team’s leading scorers. Miller averages 13, Vonleh 12, shooting guard Frida Formann 12 and Sherrod 11. Formann shoots 39 percent behind the arc. Quay can drive and shoot the three. Colorado made 13 threes against Middle Tennessee in the first round.
The quick Sherrod is a key, not only with her scoring but her perimeter defense and passing ability.
“I think when you have balance, and you have a team that really genuinely is unselfish like that, then you can play great basketball no matter where you are, who you’re playing, what environment, and I think we showed that (Monday),” Payne said.
Payne plays a lot of players and gets contributions up and down the lineup. The Buffs handled Duke’s full-court pressure for the most part.
“(The Blue Devils) are a high-level defensive team, and we just knew we could not be timid and we had to attack it,” Miller said. “The more we came out attacking it, maybe that will lessen up the pressure.”
Colorado qualified for its second NCAA Tournament in a row after having gone nine seasons without a bid. Payne took over in 2017-18 and has slowly built the program to where it had 22 victories last season and 25 this season.
“I told the team being here from four years where we started to now, I’m just really proud of this program and how far we’ve come, the work we’ve put in, the hours, the belief when nobody believed,” Sherrod said. “It was tough.
Still Dancing 🦬💃#GoBuffs // #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/KB8nTUrc19
— Colorado Women's Basketball 🦬 (@CUBuffsWBB) March 21, 2023