Women’s basketball: CU Buffs slip to No. 8 in rankings, aim to regroup ahead of road trip

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The Colorado women’s basketball team was on a roll before it ran into Oregon State on Sunday.

Now, the Buffaloes face a crucial stretch of games that could make or break their regular season.

Following Sunday’s 65-59 loss to OSU, in a game that wasn’t nearly that close most of the day, the Buffs (20-4, 10-3 Pac-12) slipped four spots to No. 8 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll. It is CU’s 14th consecutive week in the top 10, the third-longest streak in program history.

South Carolina remains the unanimous No. 1, but with Iowa, North Carolina State and CU all losing, there was a shakeup in the rest of the top 10. Ohio State vaulted three spots to No. 2, while Stanford jumped three spots to No. 3. Iowa fell to No. 4, while Texas jumped to No. 5 and NC State fell three spots to No. 6.

Kansas State moved up one slot to No. 7, followed by CU. No. 9 UCLA and No. 10 USC remained in their same spots from last week. Oregon State, meanwhile, made the biggest move of the week, vaulting six spots to No. 11 after dominating road wins at Utah and CU.

In addition to the five Pac-12 teams in the top 11, Utah slipped two spots to No. 22.

CU took a four-game winning streak into Sunday’s matchup, but trailed by as many as 25 points before rallying late to close the gap.

The rally was impressive, but it was still a loss and now the Buffs are set to begin arguably the most difficult three-game road trip in program history, at Utah (Friday), USC (Feb. 23) and UCLA (Feb. 26). It’ll be the first time in CU history it will play three consecutive games on the road against top 25 opponents.

“Lots to learn from this game (against Oregon State) and we have to learn it and move on to the next one pretty quick,” CU head coach JR Payne said.

First place in the Pac-12 before Sunday, the Buffs are still in title contention, but no longer in control of their own fate. If Stanford wins out (including Feb. 29 at OSU), it will win the title. If OSU wins out, it will win. If CU wins out, it can win, but only with help from others to knock off Stanford and OSU.

CU, in fact, has a significant fight ahead just to remain in the top four and earn a first-round bye for the conference tournament. Stanford (11-2 in conference), CU (10-3), OSU (9-3), UCLA (8-4), USC (7-4) and Utah (8-5) are all still in the hunt for top four spots.

Facing three of those teams on the road — in a row — won’t be easy. CU hasn’t defeated an AP Top 25 opponent on the road in conference play since Jan. 7, 2004, at Baylor. But the Buffs are going to have to regroup and break that streak to stay in the top four, let alone compete for the title.

“That’s nothing new to us,” Payne said of the Buffs embarking on a tough stretch. “We played a bunch of road games already in a row and against a bunch of stretches with ranked opponents. So that’s not new to us. But I think just revisiting the film and making sure that we fix the areas that are fixable (is important).

“Coaches, players, trainers, everybody’s as prepared as possible for what we’re going to see and how we’re going to execute against what we’re going to see. That’s always the answer: back to the lab, figure out what went wrong and make the changes that need to be changed. It’s really not rocket science. It’s just being really honest about how each of us could have been better and then be better. That’s really it.”

Payne and the Buffs don’t look too far down the road, however. Their primary concern is Utah – a team they defeated 76-65 in Boulder on Dec. 30 – and making sure they’re better than they were Sunday.

“It just takes the entire program to take a really honest look at what does the film tell us,” Payne said, “and what are we going to do to make sure that we don’t play like that, again?”

Notable

Oregon State sophomore Raegan Beers was named the Pac-12 player of the week for the second time this season. The Valor Christian High School graduate had 17 points and eight rebounds in a dominant win at Utah and then posted a double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds) Sunday against the Buffs. … USC’s JuJu Watkins was named the Pac-12 freshman of the week for the 12th time in 14 weeks. She had 31 points in a win against Arizona State.

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