Daily Camera (Boulder)
Opportunity knocks for Buffs
Limiting turnovers crucial at No. 18 Arizona
A half-dozen turnovers allowed Arizona State to hang with the Colorado women’s basketball team in the first quarter on Friday.
Another set of turnovers helped the Sun Devils slice CU’S 15-point lead to four late in the third quarter. And a few more in the fourth quarter forced the Buffaloes to sweat to the finish before coming up with the win.
The 21st-ranked Buffs got away with 20 turnovers against the Pac12’s last-place Sun Devils, but that type of number might bury them on Sunday when they visit the No. 18 Arizona Wildcats.
“I wouldn’t say concerned,” head coach JR Payne said after Friday’s turnover total, “but it’s something that we have to fix. You can’t do that on Sunday. You’re in big trouble if you do.”
Arizona, fresh off an upset of No. 4 Utah on Friday, presents a lot of challenges, especially at the Mckale Center in Tucson, Ariz., but the ability to create and capitalize on turnovers might be the biggest.
“I think the two most important things (against Arizona) are rebounding and limiting our turnovers,” Payne said. “I think those are by far the most important things.”
In a 72-65 upset of then-no. 14 Arizona on Jan. 13 in Boulder, the Buffs had 19 turnovers, but dominated on the glass (48-29) to make up for it.
CU is second in the Pac-12 in rebounding margin (plus4.5), while Arizona is 10th (minus-3.2), so Payne will look for her team to hit the boards on Sunday.
“We certainly have the ability to do it,” she said. “We just have to have the discipline to go along with the ability.”
As for turnovers, the Buffs have to be better than normal.
For the season, the Buffs commit 15.54 turnovers per game (11th in the Pac-12), but had been better in recent weeks. In the eight games before Friday at ASU, the Buffs averaged just 13.5 turnovers per game.
CU had 20-plus turnovers in five of the first eight games of the season, but Friday was the first time the Buffs hit that number since Nov. 30.
“We need to really look at them,” Payne said. “How did we turn it over? Why did we turn it over? How do we make sure we do a better job Sunday with ball security and hanging on to the ball?”
That’s such a critical aspect of the game because Arizona is one of the best teams in the country at creating turnovers. The Wildcats lead the Pac-12 in forced turnovers (18.77 per game) and their plus6.15 turnover margin is by far the best in the conference, and top-15 nationally. ASU is a distant second at plus-2.33.
CU’S Jaylyn Sherrod leads the Pac-12 in steals (2.36 per game), but Arizona’s Helena Pueyo isn’t far behind (2.35). In all, four Wildcats rank in the top nine in the Pac-12 in steals per game, including Shaina Pellington, who is third (1.88).
Arizona’s ability to create steals is especially important at home, because those are plays that can shift momentum in a hurry and get a huge crowd going. Arizona averages a conference-best 7,637 fans per home game and could have one of its biggest crowds Sunday because of senior day.
“We’ve played in front of big crowds, but … these guys are just very loud,” Payne said. “And maybe part of it is that Arizona forces turnovers and things that kind of get a crowd going, but definitely a very challenging environment.”
CU experienced that a year ago. On Jan. 23, 2022, in Tucson, the Buffs trailed by three, 46-43 late in the third quarter. In a span of five minutes, Arizona put the game away with a 17-0 run that included a trio of CU turnovers and nine consecutive missed shots. The crowd of 7,103 got louder throughout that run to help bury CU.
The Buffs, tied for second in the Pac-12, hope to avoid a similar fate this time around as they aim to continue their momentum. They have a current five-game winning streak and a two-game lead in the standings on Arizona and UCLA. A win against the Wildcats would secure a top-three finish and a first-round bye in the Pac12 Tournament for the first time since 2013.
“Oh yeah, totally (a big opportunity),” Payne said. “And a huge opportunity because (the Wildcats) are a really good team. They’re also really good at home. It’s gonna be a huge game, tons of fans, really challenging environment.
“If we make sure we’re really locked in and, again, (focusing on) turnovers and rebounding then it’s gonna be a great game.”