Pac-12 preview: the University of Colorado

This is the seventh in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams for the upcoming season.

Colorado had a rough season last year, and they might be in for more of the same in 2014-2015.

Leading scorer and rebounder Arielle Roberson (12 points, 8.3 rebounds per game) has been lost for the season with a torn ACL. Third-leading scorer Brittany Wilson graduated, as did two key reserves.

Starter Jen Reese, a senior forward (12 points, 5.8 rebounds per game) is back, as is senior guard Lexy Kresl, (8.1 points, 4.2 rebounds per game), senior guard Jasmine Sborov (7.8 points, 4.6 rebounds per game) and sophomore guard Haley Smith (3.5 points per game). Reserve Jamee Swan (8.1 points, 5.3 rebounds per game), a junior forward, also returns. But is it enough?

Last year the Buffs, with the momentum they had from 2012-2013, began the season strong. They won their first ten games and were ranked as high as 11 in top 25 polls before losing to Louisville Dec. 21. After that, they lost 14 of their last 24 games, and finished in a tie for ninth in the Pac-12. It was an epic fall for a team that had looked to be on the cusp of breaking into elite status.

Coach Linda Lappe said Colorado has two main needs right now: leaders and lockdowns.

“We need to improve our leadership and our defense,” Lappe said. “Normally, we’re a good defensive team, but that wasn’t the case at times last year. We need to have that leadership on the floor in those late game situations, to execute plays, and to get stops on the defensive end.”

Four freshmen will have to step up fast this season, and maybe none more than the team’s two centers – the only ones on the team. Bri Watts, from Fresno, Calif., redshirted last season. Zoe Correal hails from San Francisco, where she helped her high school team win three straight titles.

Brecca Thomas is a guard from Texas who was ranked the 25th best point guard in her class. Alina Hartmann is from Germany, where she is a veteran of the country’s junior national program.

Despite the setbacks, Lappe remains optimistic about the year.

“We need to have the commitment to continue to work on our individual game on the offensive side, and our overall strength and fitness,” she said. “I feel like we’re a really strong team right now, just looking at us in the weight room, and I really think that will translate onto the court as we begin practice.”

The Buffs will play in the preseason WNIT, which runs Nov. 14-23. They will also face Iowa and Missouri in preconference play. Their first Pac-12 match up will be away at Stanford Jan. 3.