Preview in front of tomorrow evening's game -
Direct link - https://cubuffs.com/news/2023/3/17/...rst-round-showdown-with-middle-tennessee.aspx
Sixth-seeded Colorado is set to open its NCAA Tournament run against 11th-seeded Middle Tennessee at the historic Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday (5 p.m. MT/ESPNews).
The first-round game will be Colorado's first-ever experience in one of college basketball's most storied venues.
"I don't think I really thought about it," senior Jaylyn Sherrod
commented about playing at Cameron Indoor. "That's all you hear growing up as a kid, maybe more so on the men's side, but it's another opportunity to get out here [and play]."
The Buffs met the media on Friday and got their first chance to step on Coach K Court, an experience that was brand new to the roster last season in Iowa City. Colorado, who is making its second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and third-consecutive postseason, has been able to lean on last year's experience to prepare for Saturday.
"I think most of us that were part of last year have been fueled by last year's result for most of the season and have worked really hard to make sure that we're not just physically prepared but also mentally prepared for a game or a moment like this," head coach JR Payne
Five players got their first NCAA Tournament experience last season against Creighton and sophomore Aaronette Vonleh
played sparingly last season for Arizona in the tournament before her transfer to Colorado.
"I would say [I learned] from last year's experience that you have to play every game like it's your last," senior Quay Miller
explained. "For me, that means I have to play like that's probably going to be my last game. I can't take any reps off. Every possession counts. Every mistake is going to count. You just have to prioritize every decision."
Vonleh could be the missing piece to the puzzle for the Buffs in this year's tournament. She starts the weekend ranked 16th in the NCAA with a Pac-12-best 58.7 field goal %. The Pac-12's Co-Most Improved Player averaged 16.5 points per game in the Pac-12 Tournament and shot 71.4% from the field (15-21). Voneh has averaged 12.8 points per game since the start of February, shooting a 60.2% clip (59-63) in the CU's last 10 games.
"She's incredible," Payne noted. "She's a great teammate. She works hard. She's one of the most athletic players I've probably ever coached as far as having the rare combination of size, skill and mobility. She's definitely had a great year and continued to get better and better. I think her best basketball is still ahead of her."
Colorado (23-8) has been off since getting beat by Washington State in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. The Buffs have used the downtime to refocus themselves and put the past behind them.
"For one, I'd say we took time to make sure our bodies feel good," Sherrod added. "Two, just focusing on what we can do leading up to Saturday. We didn't know whom we were going to play until Selection Sunday so we had to focus on what we needed to execute offensively and defensively to get better."
Middle Tennessee (28-4) won both the C-USA regular season and tournament titles to punch its ticket to the Big Dance. The Lady Raiders upset No. 18 Louisville earlier this season and have won 10 straight headed into the tournament.
"Middle Tennessee is a really great team," Payne continued. "I think they're probably the best mid-major team in the country. They play hard, they're tough, fearless, everything you want in a basketball team. It's definitely a challenging matchup for both teams. It will be a great game."
Cory Lopez and Carol Callan will call Saturday's action on 850 KOA, starting with pregame coverage at 4:30 p.m. MT. Sam Ravech and Kelly Gramlich will cover the first and second round games in Durham for ESPN.
And, quite a bit of content from Brian Howell/ Buffzone -