Spring break begins this weekend on the Colorado campus, but women's basketball coach Linda Lappe is hoping her players want no part of it.
March is trickling toward its final week, but Lappe's team is still playing. CU can extend its season even further with a win Thursday (7 p.m., Coors Events Center) against Villanova in the third round of the WNIT. If there's any spring break traveling to be done (Lappe, of course, would prefer another home game) she hopes the Buffs do it en masse . . . going as a team to another WNIT site if that's what's required of them.
"I want us to get used to playing during spring break; it's always in March and we want to play through March," Lappe said Wednesday. "That's a good learning experience for us. It's exciting to be playing through spring break."
CU (20-13) advanced with first- and second-round WNIT wins against Northern Colorado (54-42) and at South Dakota (64-55), respectively. Villanova (19-14) moved on via victories against American University (58-39) and at Illinois State (58-55).
The Wildcats could be without leading scorer (14.4 points) and rebounder (7.6) Laura Sweeney, a 6-2 junior. She suffered a hand injury in Villanova's first-round win against American University and did not play at Illinois State.
Villanova is listing Sweeney's status as doubtful, but Lappe said her team would be "ready either way . . . their system doesn't change. They (isolated) her a little and she probably runs their spread offense a little better than some other players. But they all do the same thing. One player going out - even though it's their leading scorer - doesn't affect them as much as some other teams when their leading scorer would go out."
Villanova's spread offense system is the product of longtime coach Harry Perretta, who is in his 34th season at the Pennsylvania school. To put the length of his tenure in perspective, he was in the latter part of his second season as Villanova's coach when Lappe was born (Feb. 26, 1980). Perretta entered this season needing two victories to become the 35th women's coach to reach the 600-win plateau and only the seventh at one school in Division I. Perretta got No. 600 two games into the season. His record: 617-392.
With Sweeney's probable absence, Lappe expects a "chess match" with Perretta: "He'll get the pieces in place that he wants and kind of run his offense from there. He'll do that maybe a little more when (Sweeney) is out - and again, she's only been out for a game and a half, so it's a little tough to tell."
A Perretta-Lappe sidebar: Perretta has a 3-1 record against CU, with one of the wins knocking Lappe and her final Buffs teams out of the 2003 NCAA Tournament in Knoxville, Tenn. Lappe's memory of that game's details isn't vivid, but she does recall, "It was a tough game to go out on. They do some very similar things (now) - different players but the same system and they really execute it."
Some of CU's current players are aware of the Lappe-Perretta connection. "I've been hearing something about them putting coach Lappe and Sabrina (Scott) out of the Sweet 16, so it's going to be a good game for us to try and help coach Lappe, in a sense, get them back," said CU sophomore guard Brittany Wilson. "But I think it's more about us, our defense and securing our home court. I'm pretty sure they're a good team; no team has won two games and isn't a good team at this point."
She said even though the Buffs came up short of some of their season expectations - finishing 10t h in the Pac-12 and not making the NCAA Tournament, to name two - they are relishing a chance to finish strong. "We've come out and showed we're not your average tenth-place team," she said. "We can really play, and I feel like the last seven or eight games we've pushed our will, we've shown people we can really play and that Colorado basketball is actually back. It's a great experience to bring the tradition back to this school."
The Wildcats will be the best beyond-the-arc bunch the Buffs have faced this season. They averaged nine made three-pointers during Big East Conference play, with six players hitting 20 or more treys in Villanova's 33 games. Redshirt freshman forward Lauren Burford topped the Wildcats, making 62-of-150 (41 percent) from beyond the arc, with junior guard Rachel Roberts next at 56-of-140 (40 percent). As a team, Villanova shoots 33 percent (269-of-796) from three-point range.
Said Lappe: "If your hands aren't up and they're open, they make them. You have to make them miss."
In its two WNIT games, CU experienced wild swings in the turnover department. Against UNC, the Buffs committed 27 turnovers; against South Dakota, they cut that total to a season-low nine - and three of that total came in succession to open the second half. Lappe's explanation: "I think we were mentally focused for South Dakota. It was tough getting back into it for Northern Colorado, just because it felt like we hadn't played for a long time . . . now it feels like we're back into the groove of things, we're getting our routine down again. It was just a matter of being very sloppy in one game and very focused in the next."
CU averages 17.1 turnovers, Villanova 12.1. Lappe has cautioned her players that the Wildcats are "disciplined and don't make many mistakes. They have good players within a good system . . . they shoot, handle the ball and pass. I told our team that only good teams beat this team - not good individuals, not everybody on their own page. It takes a team effort to beat this team."
At South Dakota, recalled Brittany Wilson, Lappe rekindled the Buffs' confidence with a pregame locker room talk in which she said the home team appeared shaken: "When we went to the locker room (pregame) she told us she could tell they were totally scared, just in the way they were warming up. Whether she really saw that or not, we took it to heart and came out wanted to put the dagger in them early . . . we felt pretty confident."
At 4-1 in their past five games, the Buffs have rediscovered enough confidence and ramped up their defense in an up-and-down season to be successful. Their lone senior, Julie Seabrook, said it's the kind of finish teams always envision: "Everyone hopes to be playing your best basketball at this time of year. All your practices and all the hard work leads up to this, hoping you're going to make postseason play.
"We've kind of been up-and-down this year. Last year, we kind of peaked during this time; this year has been a little bit different. We were playing well going into the Pac-12 tournament, then we kind of had a lull, then we started to kind of pick up again."
Lappe called her team's defense over the past two weeks "pretty solid, but these guys (Villanova) test it and that's what's going to be really fun . . . you want this team at the end of the year when hopefully you're at your best defensively. And I think we're (there) as maybe compared to what we were in February or January or before. So this is a good time to be playing these guys."