Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo
Contact CU Independent staff writer Jake Mauff at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Jama4737CMCI
The University of Colorado women’s basketball team currently sits dead last in the Pac-12 with a 5-14 (0-8 Pac-12) record. The Buffs have lost nine straight contests since their last win, against Presbyterian on Dec. 19. The CUI’s Justin Guerriero and Jake Mauff debate whether or not this will be the beginning of a rough next few seasons.
Justin Guerriero: I’m not going to deny that this season has been ugly — the Buffs’ record attests to that. But I’m not jumping ship just yet. I think this year will be a fluke. I can’t sit here and claim that that they’ll be back in the NCAA tournament next year, but I’ll go on record right now and say that this season will be the low point. The Buffaloes will undoubtedly improve next year.
I see and hear people who are clearly worried about the immediate future of this program. Understandable, given how unsuccessful this year has been for head coach Linda Lappe and her Buffs. Despite that, I’m not moving to DefCon 2 over the state of the women’s basketball team. I see that this team has struggled to find an identity after it lost Jen Reese and Lexy Kresl, the top two offensive players last season. Is it fair to expect an immediate rebound after the team lost its main success-creators? I’m inclined to say no; that’s an unfair demand.
This squad has lost many games, and lost many of them pretty badly. I see a team with a lone senior, Jamee Swan, who leads the team with points per game, total points, rebounds per game and blocks. I notice that former supporting cast members — namely, juniors Lauren Huggins and Haley Smith, are on their way to becoming leaders. This season, Huggins has been expected to pick up all of the slack from beyond the arc. She’s making 38.7 percent her threes and is averaging 8.4 points per game, which is nearly double of what she put up on average last season.
As for Smith, she’s been contributing an average of 10 points per game, is second on the team with 107 total rebounds and has made an impressive 87.5 percent of her foul shots. The main point I want to illustrate here is that despite the eyebrow-raising 5-14 record, I think that the Buffs have players that are improving, and that next year fans are going to see a more mature and experienced team.
Jake Mauff: I agree with you on one thing, Justin. The 5-14 record is eyebrow-raising. The 0-8 record in Pac-12 is, frankly, disturbing. Most of any college team’s schedule is conference play. When your team can’t eek out one victory, it shows signs about how the team plays. Yes, losing two star players is a tough challenge to overcome, but the team shouldn’t be shooting under 40 percent regularly, even with these players gone.
Jamee Swan can only do so much by herself, and it’s clear how much she anchors this offense. The low point of the Buffs’ season so far, and hopefully for the season as a whole, was the game against Cal. In that game, the team failed to score for more than 18 straight minutes, including the entire second quarter. Swan didn’t play in that game. Next year, Swan won’t play in any games. If this team can’t find it’s groove with her playing, it’ll struggle a lot more with her away.
I think it’s safe to say that changes will be made during the offseason. Whatever those changes may be, they will ultimately affect the core players, especially the freshmen trio of Kennedy Leonard, Alexis Robinson and Makenzie Ellis. These three showed great potential to start the year and faded quickly once the conference portion of the schedule started.
Considering their decline in Pac-12 play, this team has a long way to go. Recruits will notice this and it will be harder to convince them to come to Boulder. One day, this team will be better, but I don’t see that happening for at least a few years.
JG: Jake, if you bring up the Cal game even one more time it might trigger some. Have mercy! But honestly, you’re right. The Cal game is one of many bad examples, especially in terms of putting up points and clicking as a unit, by the Buffs this season. Granted, Swan is in her last season with the Buffs, and her loss will be felt this upcoming year, but I’m hopeful that by then Huggins and Smith will be poised to keep climbing the stairs to success. I think they’re going to be a dynamic duo next season as seniors.
As for your thoughts on offseason changes, I’m with you on that. Leonard, Robinson and Ellis should be prepared to say goodbye to Lappe. I’m not, nor do I claim to be athletic director Rick George, but anyone who is outright denying that there could likely be a coaching switch at the end of this season needs to face the facts here. The facts being that this team has an atrocious record and has not beaten a Pac-12 opponent.
Still, in the event of a head coaching switch, I’m not too sure that players — especially Leonard — will jump ship. It will be hard adjusting to a new coach’s style, but wouldn’t it be even harder to transfer? That means adjusting to a new campus, a new city, a new coach and new teammates. That seems like an even bigger hassle to me.
I want to focus on Leonard for a second. The freshman from Southlake, Texas averages 11.7 points per game, good for second on the team. Leonard is young, and her skills are already well-developed. She’s done a good job of figuring out how to play well with the people around her. After all, she leads the team with an impressive 90 assists. Robinson is second in that regard with 51. I won’t argue for a second that adjusting to a new coaching staff wouldn’t be tough. But to me it seems like a more viable option for these players, considering the strides that they’ve made in terms of establishing camaraderie with their teammates in such a short sample size.
JM: Thank you, Justin. I appreciate being told I’m right, twice, and I’m going to try and prove it again here — three-point shooting seems to be getting worse and worse for the team. It was once a strong suit for the team, and now it’s working less and less. The number of attempts is dropping, and their conversion percentage with it. In their latest game, against Oregon State, Colorado attempted seven shots from long range. Compare this to the game against Northern Arizona, when the offense clicked (albeit against a lower quality opponent), and the team make seven threes out of 12. Against Oregon State, the Buffs made only one.
Fouling is a major problem for this team as well, on both sides of the ball. The team struggles to get to the line. This was another fault the team showcased against Oregon State. Colorado went to the foul line seven times and only made four shots. In the same game, the Beavers went 18-of-26 from the charity stripe. Those attempts came off of 22 Buffalo personal fouls. Fixing a problem like this is foundational, so, even with a new system, it may be tough to have the team improve in this category.
If you take away points from free throws, both teams scored 43 points from the floor. This game became a blowout because of fouls. I know it’s impossible to have a game without fouls, but when the fouls are this extreme, it’s also hard not to point them out. In just about every other facet of that game, Colorado kept up with Oregon State, who were the No. 11 team in the country at the time of the game. Sure, the Buffs’ offense lagged, but so did the Beavers (thanks to fairly good Buffs’ defense).
Problems like this aren’t unfixable, but the quality teams in the Pac-12 make the challenge that much harder. These teams show no sign of slowing down, with five Pac-12 teams in the top 25. Plus, this team will remain largely the same next year. That does improve chemistry, but that means most of the same talents remain. Current problems will stay, especially with the very plausible idea that a new coach is taking over the reigns. It’ll take a lot more than a year of bad play to be good again.
For their next contest, the Buffs will take on UCLA this Friday at Coors Events Center at 7 p.m. MST.