Back to work: CU Buffs women’s basketball begins NCAA Tournament prep

On Monday, Colorado women’s basketball coach JR Payne gave her players a day off.

On Tuesday, the Buffaloes began dialing in on Middle Tennessee.

The 21st-ranked Buffs will face Middle Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday in Durham, N.C. (5 p.m. MT, ESPNews).

“I’m just excited to practice,” Payne said. “Honestly, we’re gonna do everything we can to just make sure it’s a normal, hard-nosed week of practice and try to minimize all the noise, minimize outside people in our space and just try to work. But, we’re excited for sure.”

CU (23-8) hasn’t played since a 61-49 loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals on March 3, and didn’t know until Sunday that Middle Tennessee would be the next opponent.

With no games, no known opponent and no travel last week, the Buffs had a chance to work on themselves and they feel that was a positive first step towards success in the NCAA Tournament.

“Before we knew that we were playing Middle Tennessee, we were focusing on ourselves and ourselves only,” sophomore guard Kindyll Wetta said. “Honestly, the result of the Pac-12 tournament was us and how we performed. So just getting to really work on being sound offensively and defensively has been very good for us and I think is building the foundation for now preparing for Middle Tennessee.”

Much of the focus a week ago was to improve the pace and flow of the offense and Payne was pleased with the work the Buffs put into practice, but that work isn’t done.

“We’re still trying to improve overall offensive pace – reads, discipline and execution; setting great screens, using great screens, things like that,” she said. “We don’t want to just be out there burning calories. We always say, if you’re gonna do something, do it properly so that we can try to get certain people in certain spots.

“I thought it was really good (last week). … After a day off (Monday), we should be fresh and feeling good and really, really locked in on our stuff.”

Of course, the Buffs are also focusing on MTSU. The Blue Raiders (28-4) were Conference USA champions and present plenty of problems.

CU gathered as a team to watch film together for the first time on Tuesday, but Wetta and her teammates had already watched as much MTSU footage as possible.

“It’s nice to be able to prepare for a team that’s not in your conference, because you get so used to the same players, same faces,” Wetta said. “Being able to prepare for a team that’s much different than we’ve seen is very exciting.”

After losing to Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, the Buffs believe they’ll be better prepared and show proper respect to MTSU.

“Last year, we were the higher seed and kind of came in and I think there was a little bit of a mentality of like, ‘OK, this is gonna be an easy first game, they’re not as high of a level as Pac-12. … We’re a much better team,’” Wetta said. “And, that obviously wasn’t the case.

“You all really have to be firing on every cylinder to win those games. I know that we’re all going to be reminding each other of that on every possession, in practice and everything.”

Payne said MTSU somewhat resembles Utah, the Buffs’ Pac-12 rival, in that the Blue Raiders shoot a high volume of 3-pointers and also have a solid inside game. They also draw a lot of fouls and get to the free throw line, so the Buffs have to be on their game defensively.

“It’s going to be a big priority to remain disciplined, sort of rely on your principles defensively – spacing and high hands and things like that,” she said.

Like Creighton, MTSU is a program that’s been led by the same head coach for a long time. Rick Insell is in his 18th season, winning a lot of games with the same standard.

“They’re a really veteran team,” Payne said. “They have a lot of upperclassmen that have played a lot and won a lot and had a ton of success. So I think they’re a group that knows how to win and probably just does what they do and does it well.”

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