The Denver Post

Buffs earn No. 6 seed in second straight tourney

- By Brian Howell

As a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, there should not have been many nerves from the Colorado women’s basketball team on Sunday.

Being one of the last teams revealed for the field of 68 during ESPN’S selection show did create a bit of anxiety, however.

“I just was excited to see our name pop up,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “We waited so long that a couple of our players said, ‘Are you sure we’re in?’ I’m like, ‘ Yes we’re in, don’t worry.’”

The 20th-ranked Buffaloes are in, landing the No. 6 seed in the Seattle 4 region. CU (23- 8) will face 11th- seeded Middle Tennessee (28- 4) on Saturday in Durham, N.C. The time of the game will be announced on Monday.

The winner will face the winner of No. 3 seed Duke and No. 14 seed Iona on March 20. Duke is hosting the subregiona­l.

Middle Tennessee is ranked No. 25 in the AP poll, won the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles and brings a 10-game winning streak into the matchup with CU.

The Buffs have never faced the Blue Raiders, and this will be one of only two first-round matchups between AP Top 25 teams. Both are also top 30 in the NET rankings, with CU at No. 23 and Middle Tennessee at No. 28.

“I was born in Tennessee, I have a lot of family in Tennessee, grew up hearing about Middle and have a lot of family members that went to school there,” Payne said. “So I know they’re really good. I haven’t watched them this year, but I know they’re good, so we’re excited.”

After ending a nineyear NCAA Tournament drought a year ago, the Buffs will make consecutiv­e appearance­s for the first time since a four-year run from 2001- 04.

“I’m very excited,” senior point guard Jaylyn Sherrod said. “Just to be a top68 team out of 300-something is a blessing in itself. We worked for it, we played for it and I think we deserve it.”

There was never a question about the Buffs getting into this year’s tournament. The only drama — aside from the wait during the selection show — came from knowing where they’d be positioned.

Prior to the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas two weeks ago, the Buffs were projected as a No. 4 seed, which would have placed the Buffs in Boulder for the opening weekend. Even after losing in the semifinals, CU had not been projected as lower than a No. 5 seed in recent weeks by ESPN or other outlets.

“Kind of wasn’t expecting that six-seed, but at the end of the day it just gives us something else to put a chip on our shoulder,” Sherrod said. “A pissed off Colorado team is not what anybody wants to see. I’m just excited. I think still being emotional off the Washington State loss (in the semifinals), as well, just has put us in a position where we’re just hungry to get after it and be on the court again.”

CU built a strong resume throughout the season, including three wins against teams that were ranked in the top 15 nationally at the time. The Buffs also had two regular season wins against Pac-12 tournament champion Washington State and defeated WAC champion Southern Utah. The Buffs went 7-7 against teams in the NCAA field.

After finishing third in the Pac-12 during the regular season — the program’s best conference finish since 2004 — the Buffs reached the conference tournament semifinals. Now, they bring a measure of confidence into their second straight NCAA Tournament.

“It’s really exciting because it’s everything I’ve wanted from the college experience,” said junior guard Frida Formann, who came to CU from Denmark nearly three years ago. “I really wanted to be part of March Madness. When I go home I’m like, ‘ Wow, I’m really doing everything that I really want to do,’ and I’m just so happy that it’s with this team that I really do love and enjoy playing with.”

In its history, CU is 17-14 in the NCAA Tournament, but has lost four straight since reaching the Sweet 16 in 2003. Despite being the higher seed in each of its last three NCAA Tournament appearance­s (2004, 2013 and 2022), CU has been knocked out in the first round each time.

Senior Quay Miller said the Buffs will be ready to go on Saturday, however.

“It’s kind of surreal in the moment,” she said of seeing the Colorado name on the screen. “You’re just like, ‘ OK, our season is not over. We have a lot more basketball to play.’ And I think that’s just what really went through my mind, just being able to prepare myself for another game against a team I know nothing about.

“(Going for a second straight year), I think that it shows that we have the potential to be great and we’re just trying to strive for that every game and every practice.”

 ?? PHOTO BY SARA HERTWIG — BUFFZONE.COM ?? Colorado women’s basketball players Quay Miller, left, Jaylyn Sherrod, center, and Tayanna Jones react to the team’s NCAA Tournament selection on Sunday at the Touchdown Club in Boulder.
PHOTO BY SARA HERTWIG — BUFFZONE.COM Colorado women’s basketball players Quay Miller, left, Jaylyn Sherrod, center, and Tayanna Jones react to the team’s NCAA Tournament selection on Sunday at the Touchdown Club in Boulder.

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