There wasn’t much doubt about the Colorado women’s basketball team being in the NCAA Tournament, but when the Buffaloes saw their name show up on ESPN’s selection show broadcast, there was a roar and outpouring of emotions at the Touchdown Club on Sunday.
“At first I was nervous; I was anxious, excited,” senior Peanut Tuitele said. “There was a lot of different emotions, but when I finally saw that name across TV, man was it a jolt of excitement, happiness. It’s so real right now. So real.”
Oh, it’s real. For the first time since 2013 and only the second time since 2004, Colorado is going to The Dance.
“I can’t even describe this feeling,” Tuitele added. “It’s the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my entire life probably. … A little girl’s dream came true and I know a lot of my teammates probably feel the same.”
The Buffs (22-8) are the No. 7 seed in the Greensboro Region and will face No. 10 seed Creighton (20-9) on Friday in Iowa City, Iowa. The winner will face No. 2 Iowa (23-7) or No. 15 seed Illinois State (18-13) in the second round on Sunday.
“We’ve been knowing that we’re in or really feeling like we’ve done what we needed to have our name called, but there is really nothing that compares to seeing your name actually pop up,” head coach JR Payne said. “In fact, when Iowa popped up, I think the black and gold kind of shook everybody for a second, but we’re just really honored and excited for the opportunity.”
CU set its sights on this opportunity last summer after a disappointing loss to Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. With several senior leaders, including Mya Hollingshed, Sila Finau and Tuitele, the Buffs felt they had the makeup of an NCAA Tournament team this year.
“This is everything that we talked about since last year when we lost in the Pac-12 tournament,” Hollingshed said. “This is a lot of excitement, a little bit of nervousness, but more excitement than nervousness. … Everything we talked about from the beginning of summer workouts, it’s just an emotional experience, honestly. I’ve never had this. I’ve never felt this. So to finally do this in my fifth year, it means a lot.”
This season, the Buffs got off to a 13-0 start and were the last undefeated team in the country. That was followed by a dismal 1-6 stretch that put some pressure on the Buffs late in the season.
“Our backs were against the wall about a month ago,” Payne said. “We were in situations where we felt like we had to win in order to make the field of 68 and we did. Then the next weekend, you have to win to make the field. In that process, we realized that we’re pretty tough when our backs are against the wall. Not only did we win, but we’re playing really good basketball, so I’m proud of our group for that.”
After its 1-6 stretch, the Buffs went 8-2 in their last 10 games and made a run to the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament. Their only losses in the last 10 games came to No. 2-ranked Stanford, the defending national champion and No. 1 seed in the Spokane Region.
Even with their mid-season slump, the Buffs were projected as an NCAA Tournament team all season.
“It’s just indescribable,” Finau said. “It’s a very good feeling. We’ve worked so hard from freshman year to now. We’ve said it before, it hasn’t been pretty but all the work that we put in from then to now it’s paid off and now we’re here.”
getting a no. 7 seed was a bit of a surprise. After its slump, CU had been projected as a lower seed for much of the past few weeks. ESPN recently had the Buffs as a No. 10 seed and bumped them up to a No. 8 over the weekend. Payne never paid much attention to the projections.
“Honestly we’re just excited to be in the field,” she said. “We didn’t really necessarily know or care what seed we were, who we were going to play. We were just excited to be a part of it, but I think (a No. 7 seed) speaks to the way that we’re playing right now, winning eight of 10 games and our only two losses to the No. 2 teams in the country. We’re playing really good basketball, and it’s great for our team to be recognized in that way.”
The thrill of Sunday’s announcement was quickly replaced by coaches and players scrambling to find out any information they could about Creighton.
“As soon as this (celebration) is over, I already know a lot of us are going to be looking at them,” Tuitele said. “(Assistant coach Toriano Towns) already told us he’s sending a game (film) to us, so we’re gonna probably be watching that.
“It’s go time; business now – now that we know we’re in.”