BOULDER – With No. 8 Louisville set to visit the Coors Events Center on Friday night, might the Colorado women’s basketball team have a tendency to gaze past Tuesday’s trip down I-25 South to the University of Denver?
CU coach Linda Lappe doesn’t think so, and neither does senior captain Meagan Malcolm-Peck. Their shared feeling is that this Buffs team has a game-to-game focus that won’t allow what could be a costly look ahead to the Cardinals, past the Pioneers. That could be a bad oversight.
“We’d better not be looking ahead because we know DU is a good program with a good team and a lot of returners from last year, the last two years really,” Lappe said. “I think our players are excited to play another rival. We’ve been lucky that our last two games have been big games . . . if you didn’t have those two games, I think it would have been easy for your mind to go past DU and straight to Louisville. But Denver is a formidable opponent and our players understand what it means to play well against the teams on the Front Range.
“Veteran teams understand what every game means. You don’t look past any game, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. That’s what veteran teams and really good teams do. I think this team is starting to understand that each win is really important, each game is really important. It’s just like playing the last minute before the first minute; you have to take it each minute at a time no matter what game. And you have to take every opponent as it comes. I think our players are genuinely excited to play at Denver.”
In getting to 7-0, CU has beaten Wyoming (68-59) and Colorado State (72-46). So, if Front Range dominance is high on the Buffs’ priority list, then there’s a ready-made motive for dispatching DU. The Lady Pioneers are 4-4 overall, 2-2 in Magness Arena. They’ve beaten Northern Colorado (57-46) and Air Force (77-73), but they lost at Wyoming (81-66) – so there’s a little of the reigning on Front Range appeal for them as well.
Malcolm-Peck believes the Buffs will be locked in Tuesday night from the time they board their bus in Boulder to stepping off it on the DU campus.
“Everyone thinks that you’re going to get really excited for that big game (Louisville) – and everyone is excited about it,” she said. “But the way our team is, we understand that we can’t just let DU go. It’s on the road and everyone understands that . . . we’re focused on DU right now. We’ll have two days to prepare for Louisville and that’s what we have for every game.”
Malcolm-Peck, a 6-2 forward whose minutes (13.2 average) have slipped a bit because of this team’s balance, embraces the leadership role that she occupies this season. She has evolved into more of a vocal leader since her sophomore year and developed relationships with her teammates that serve her well in her final season.
“Being a senior now and knowing these girls three or four years, I think I know how to motivate and how different people respond,” she said. “Leadership is always a developing process, changing yourself and how you relate to people. I have a problem getting easily frustrated, and I’ve been working on that. I love being in that role.”
In truth, the younger Buffs have made the role easier for her; they’ve been receptive to being directed. But Malcolm-Peck shrugs off the thought that the team’s leadership is strictly on her: “I don’t think it’s like ‘Meagan is the leader and she’s dominating everything,’” she said. “It’s not like ‘Listen (only) to Meagan.’ There’s other people who know they need to step up. It’s not like I’m talking for an entire practice; some people are performing really well on the court and know they need to say something.
“Everyone is free to collaborate . . . there’s a dialogue between people. They understand and there’s good chemistry. Everyone is growing up and that’s how it is when you’ve played together for a couple of years and have experience.”
Malcolm-Peck has learned to delegate, and Lappe says her two seniors – senior point guard Chucky Jeffery is the other – lead in different ways: “Both of them have been a huge asset to our team because they’ve been in the fire, they’ve been through a lot of different things. They have a lot of advice and a lot experience to add to our team, but they know they can’t do it alone. Whenever you have seniors who understand what it means to be a part of a team and a part of something bigger than yourself, that’s a really neat thing and you can win a lot of games because of that.”
Malcolm-Peck thinks the makeup of the current Buffs roster is the best of her career. “We’ve got a good mix of seniors and juniors, and the sophomores were forced to play an extreme amount their freshman years,” she said. “They have a lot of experience, too. Arielle (Roberson, redshirt freshman) has watched that and she’s doing big things for us. She’s been around the program for a year. We really only have a couple of players who don’t understand that, but being around all of us I think they do now more than most freshmen would.”
The difference in this season’s team and others, she said, is obvious: “We’ve got such a good post presence and overall balance. Last year we relied on Chucky all-around and Lexy (Kresl) to hit big shots. We’re winning this year even when that’s not happening. Arielle and Jen (Reese) in the post have been great; no one can stop Arielle and that leads to kick outs on the three.
“There’s not enough people to guard all of us . . . there’s so many people we can put on the floor who can contribute – not just a (Brittany) Spears or Chucky. There’s such a balance on our team. It’s something we haven’t had before. It’s awesome for Chucky to think she doesn’t have to score 30 for us to win. It’s a relief on her and everybody else. There’s no ‘I’ve got to get mine’ mentality. Everybody is as excited for Arielle to get 18 a game as they are for me to hit one three-pointer. It’s such a different team chemistry than we’ve before, and it’s really exciting.”
Another exciting factor is the total buy-in among the Buffs. Their goal this season, said Malcolm-Peck, “is to be uncommon. That’s one of things we want to do – things that people don’t think we can do, and maybe even some things we haven’t thought we could do. It’s a stepping stone to get there and we’ve focused on one step at a time. I think we’re finally getting that piece figured out.”
One step at a time means one game at a time. And that means tripping South to DU before laying out the welcome mat for Louisville. If the Buffs do indeed have that figured out, something truly uncommon could be in their future.