Pac-12 preview: Colorado University

This is the first in an annual series previewing the Pac-12 teams

Coach Linda Lappe’s third season heading the program at her alma mater proved to be the charm last year, as Colorado marched toward elite status with a strong record, a national ranking and an NCAA Tournament appearance.

The Buffs overcame years of mid-season lulls and lack of depth to put together a 25-7 overall record, and a fourth-place conference finish. Their 11-0 start got them into the top 25, where they stayed for the rest of the season. Colorado’s only losses were to the three Pac-12 teams that finished above them, and to Kansas, to whom they lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was their first tourney appearance since 2004.

With only one starter and two bench players lost, the Buffs would be poised to repeat such success this season, except that it is mercurial point guard Chucky Jeffery who is missing. Their top scorer for the last two years, Jeffery was also the team’s leader, and her absence leaves a large void.

The good news for Colorado is that the four returning starters are a strong and resilient core. Sophomore forward Arielle Roberson (12.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg) was a welcome surprise in her first year, as the team’s second-leading scorer. Senior guard Brittany Wilson (8.3 ppg), junior guard Lexy Kresl (6.0 ppg) and senior center Rachel Hargis (4.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg) also return, as does key bench player Jen Reese (8.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg), a junior forward.

Other major returnees are Jamee Swan (5.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg), a sophomore who is Colorado’s field-goal percentage leader, and senior guard Ashley Wilson, who always provides a spark off the bench.

Who will fill Jeffery’s shoes? Maybe Wilson, who ranked second on the team last year in steals, assists and three-point field goals. Or perhaps it will eventually be freshman Desiree Harris, a decorated guard from Oakland, Calif. The question could be crucial for the Buffs, who have relied on Jeffery for so long.

Other newcomers include Zoe Beard-Fails, a forward from Herndon, Virginia; Haley Smith, a Washington state guard/forward; and Bri Watts, a center from Fresno, Calif.

Colorado’s schedule is virtually the same as last year’s, as they face pre-conference opponents Louisville, Illinois, New Mexico, Wyoming and Denver. They begin conference play Jan. 3 at USC.