Buffaloes head to Los Angeles in hopes of strong finish

Senior guard Kennedy Leonard tears up during JR Payne’s senior speech following her last CU basketball game. Feb. 24, 2019. (Casey Paul/CU Independent)

To say it’s been a tough season for the Colorado Buffaloes women’s basketball team would certainly be a bit of an understatement. As the team embarks on its final road trip of the season in Los Angeles, and before joining the rest of the conference in Las Vegas for the annual Pac-12 Tournament, the desire to finish the season strong has not been lost on anyone in the locker room.

“We’re going to try to compete every game,” sophomore forward Mya Hollingshed said. “Nothing’s changed. I know we’ve struggled with trying to get a few wins, but we’ve struggled with injuries and everything, so we’ve had a lot of adversity this year. I think we still have that need to still compete every game. It doesn’t matter who we have, whoever we have we’re just going to roll out with them and we’re just going to fight.”

Despite the Buffs’ below average record — no thanks to an 11-game losing skid that stretched from the end of December to early February — the compete level is very much still there. No one has given up in that locker room.

“I’ve heard our players say it: we’ve shown that we can compete with any team,” head coach J.R. Payne said. “Every game we’ve been in we’ve been competitive … a lot of great competitive games, and with all things considered, with people out and people playing in games that didn’t practice for two weeks. I believe our team knows that they can [compete] and that’s good come tournament time.”

But as Hollingshed and Payne admit, the Buffaloes have struggled mightily with injuries, most notably losing the team’s unquestioned four-year leader in senior guard Kennedy Leonard and fellow senior sharp-shooting guard Alexis Robinson. It’s been back-breaking for the Buffs.

“I think a lot of us feel like ‘gosh, if we could’ve been at full strength, we would’ve been a lot better,’ but you use the hand that you’re dealt and it is what it is,” Payne said. “That only makes us stronger in the future and that’s our mindset. We haven’t allowed ourselves to have a pity party about it and it’s sort of next-woman-up and you’ve got to continue to do your job.”

Losing Leonard and Robinson has been like losing the pulse and the lifeblood of the team. CU went 1-9 during the 10-week span that Leonard was lost to a foot injury, and as soon as she came back, in the game against Arizona on Feb. 17, Robinson sat out with a knee injury. She’s missed the last three games for Colorado, which has gone 1-2 in her absence. Robinson isn’t expected to hit the court for the Buffs in their final two games in L.A.

The team’s made it their goal to finish the season strong to honor their two battle-worn seniors.

“Senior night we wanted to get the win for them but [things haven’t gone] our way this season,” Hollingshed said. “These two games are pretty big for us so we’re just going to go out there and try to get a win. [That] hasn’t changed. We’re just again try and go out and get a win for our two seniors.”

Coach Payne echoed the sentiment made by her sophomore forward.

“We want to play as well as we possibly can, especially for those two,” Payne said. “They’ve given a lot for the program for four years and they’ve been really great contributors and great teammates and all of that. So we want to play as hard and competitive as we possibly can.”

Though there’s still two more games left in the season before the Buffs book it to Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament, there’s a feeling of excitement and a fresh start that comes with the conference tourney. With a healthy Leonard back on the court for Colorado and a desire to prove some naysayers wrong, the Buffaloes will head to the tourney with their heads held high and just play their game.

“In the Pac-12 tournament we’re just going to do the best we can,” Hollingshed said. “We can’t predict what is going to happen. Whatever happens, everything happens for a reason. That’s what this season has really taught us. Whatever happens, happens. And whatever’s meant to be is meant to be and we’re just going to go play.”

Before finishing the season against USC and UCLA, the Buffaloes boast a lowly 2-14 record against Pac-12 teams this season, which is sure to lead them to being overlooked at the tournament. If you’re CU, that gives you a dangerous edge to surprise some teams.

“I love being the underdog and I think our kids like being the underdog,” Payne said. “People tend to overlook a team that hasn’t had much success over the conference season. We’ll use that to our advantage definitely.”

The Buffs travel to Los Angeles to take on USC on Friday and UCLA on Sunday before the Pac-12 Tournament tips off in Las Vegas on March 7.

Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Scott MacDonald at scma0899@colorado.edu and follow him on Twitter @ScottTopics.

Scott MacDonald

SCOTT MACDONALD IS THE ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR FOR THE CU INDEPENDENT. ORIGINALLY HAILING FROM MELBOURNE, FLORIDA, AT THE AGE OF FIVE, SCOTT AND HIS FAMILY MOVED TO COLORADO (BEFORE IT WAS COOL). IT WAS HERE IN COLORADO THAT SCOTT GREW INTO HIS OBSESSION FOR SPORTS, AND HE'S NOW EXCITED TO BE ABLE TO SCRIBE THAT PASSION THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF THE CUI. SCOTT IS MAJORING IN COMMUNICATION WITH A MINOR IN BUSINESS. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @SCOTTTOPICS.

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