Pac-12 preview: the University of Colorado, Boulder

This is the sixth in a 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams.

by Daniel Uribe

The complexion of women’s basketball in the former Pac-10 Conference has a new look this season because of the addition of two new teams: Colorado and Utah. Colorado, in particular, is an ambitious squad with one of the youngest coaches in Division I basketball, whose sights are set mile-high.

Coming in from the turbulent Big 12 Conference, the Buffs and second-year coach Linda Lappe bring a battle-tested team that made it to the WNIT quarterfinals last season. What the team may have gained in experience however, will be offset by the graduation of the programs all-time leading scorer, Brittany Spears.

Spears finished her career with 2,185 points and was a first-team All-Big 12 selection. She helped Colorado finish with an 18-16 record (6-10, Big 12). In the process, Colorado faced two of its future conference rivals in California, whom they beat 81-65 in the second round, and USC, to whom they lost in the final eight, 70-87.

Lappe is a 2002 Colorado alumni. Prior to taking the head coaching job last year, she was the head coach at Division II Metro State College from 2007-10, boasting three winning seasons and a record of 50-36. Last year she was the third-youngest coach in Division I, and the only rookie coach at that level to gain wins over ranked opponents: then-number 16 Oklahoma, 73-68, and number 17 Iowa State, 66-60 (OT).

Lappe sees the positives of the conference change for the Buffs.

“We’re looking at (the conference change) as a very intriguing time for women’s basketball,” she said. “It’s going to be a season of unknowns in the Pac-12, with all the new coaches [at UCLA, Washington, California and Arizona State] and two new schools coming in. But the unknowns make it exciting. I like it because it doesn’t put us at much of a disadvantage.”

Regarding the difference between conferences, Lappe added, “It’s tough to compare the Big 12 and the Pac-12. We know the Pac-12 is going to be very quick; there’s going to be a lot of full-court basketball played. Stanford is probably the most physical team in the Pac-12, but that could change with all the new coaches. Overall, it’s just a very tough league that, in my opinion, doesn’t get the national respect that it should.”

Beside losing Spears, Colorado also lost starter Britney Blythe (4.0 ppg, 1.3 apg). But there is still plenty of experience on the roster with the return of three starters: sophomore guard Brittany Wilson (7.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg); junior guard/forward Meagan Malcolm-Peck (7.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg); and senior forward Julie Seabrook (5.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg). Also returning is last year’s second-leading scorer, reserve junior guard Chucky Jeffery (13.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.3 apg), who also led the team in assists and steals. These four players will be expected to pick up their game substantially and fill the offensive hole left by Spears’ departure.

Also returning for the Buffs is 6-foot-4 sophomore center Rachel Hargis (2.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Brenna Malcolm-Peck, a 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore guard/forward; and Ashley Wilson (2.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg), a 5-foot-8 sophomore guard.

Lappe’s ambition has started to extend to the recruiting front, and in only her second year, she has got verbals from two players in the Hoopgurlz Top 100 for 2012: #38 Jamee Swan, a 6-foot-2 forward, and #63 Lauren Huggins, a 6-foot-1 wing.

Newcomers for this year’s team are: 5-foot-11 guard Lexy Kresl from Paradise Valley, Arizona; 6-foot-2 forward Jen Reese from Clackamas, Ore.; 6-foot-1 forward Arielle Roberson from San Antonio, Texas; and Jasmine Sborov, a 6-foot-1 guard from Round Rock, Texas.

Colorado will open it’s season at home against Northern Arizona on Nov. 11.

Daniel Uribe is a Los Angeles native and a freelance writer.