Rivalries require new blood in order to stay alive, and the Colorado-Boulder/CSU women’s basketball rivalry will get plenty of that this year.
CSU (2-3) heads to the Coors Events Center in Boulder to face Colorado-Boulder (4-2) at 7 p.m. today with seven new faces on its squad, including two starters.
Coming off a tough loss in which the Rams gave up a 14-point halftime lead Saturday against Western Carolina, the team is anxious to bounce back.
CSU also owns a 0-2 record on the road to start the season, after dropping games at San Francisco and Pacific. Today’s game provides the Rams an opportunity to turn around their recent misfortunes, something Head Coach Jen Warden expects her team to be able to do.
“It’s all up to the character of your players,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if they are 15 or 30, what matters is that they understand temporary failure and success.”
Last season, the Rams pulled off a thrilling 83-80 victory over the Buffaloes at Moby Arena. Guard Sara Hunter scored 17 points to help the Rams to the victory.
Now a junior, Hunter and her 15.2 points per game will be called on to lead a very young team on the road for a tough game. CSU has seven incoming freshmen, almost all of whom have played at some point this season.
Most notable in that group is Kelly Jo Mullaney. A freshman from Minneapolis, Mullaney currently leads the Rams and the Mountain West Conference in scoring with 19.4 points per game.
Head Coach Jen Warden has been happy with Mullaney’s chemistry with the rest of the team this season.
“I’ve been impressed with her offensive line,” said Warden. “She’s not the number one scorer in the Mountain West because she plays one-on-one. She’s got players on her team that are willing to do anything they can to help her.”
What may be good news for the Rams is that Colorado-Boulder brings in a fairly young squad into today’s game as well. The Buffaloes have four freshmen and two transfers, led by point guard Whitney Houston (7.2 points per game) and forward Aija Putnina (6.5 rebounds per game).
Junior forward Jackie McFarland leads the Buffs with 21.5 points per game, including 17 in a 62-56 win over the two rivals’ only common opponent, San Francisco.
This game holds special meaning to Warden, who spent a decade at Colorado-Boulder as an assistant to former Buffs coach Ceal Barry. But Warden isn’t concerned about her connections to the rivalry.
“When you’re a coach you have to understand that the players own this,” she said. “This isn’t my thing.”
Warden and the Rams will look for their frontcourt players to step up against a bigger Buffs team, specifically freshman forward Juanise Cornell and senior center Marilyn Moulton, whose 10.2 rebounds per game is a conference best.
Factoring in the rivalry aspect, as well as playing on the road in a hostile environment, CSU can expect an uphill battle against the Buffs.
But, as Warden said, these types of games are when young teams develop and learn to compete, things that might be even more important at this point than getting a win.
“Right now, wins and losses are a measuring stick in some ways,” she said. “But the bigger question is: Are we changing? Are we improving? Are our top three players developing? I’ve got to make sure that we’re on course.”
As Warden would know, there may be nothing more helpful in making that course go a little smoother than a win over Colorado-Boulder.
Women’s basketball beat writer Jeff Dillon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.