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The CU Buffs are prepared for the Sweet 16 matchup against the Iowa Hawkeyes, led by Caitlin Clark

The attention on Caitlin Clark from Iowa might not be as intense as the attention on the Coach Prime-led Colorado football team last season, but it's similar.

In Albany, New York, all eyes are on Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, which is almost as intense as the attention that was on the Coach Prime-led Colorado football team last season.

While the CU women’s basketball team has experienced some of the attention given to Coach Prime, they are also sharing the spotlight with Clark to some extent this week.

By sharing the limelight, the Buffs are seen by many as the next challenge in Clark’s remarkable college basketball journey.

On Saturday, the fifth-seeded Buffaloes will compete against top-seeded Iowa in the Sweet 16 at MVP Arena.

The Buffs have faced similar questions, such as how to stop Clark, the prominent star in the game and the all-time leading scorer in college basketball history, and how to handle the environment that, while officially a neutral court, will likely have a strong Hawkeye (or Clark) presence.

Clark, a top contender for national player of the year awards, leads the country in scoring (31.8 points per game) and assists (8.8). She also attempts and makes more 3-pointers than anyone else in the country, many of them from Steph Curry range.

It's unlikely to stop Clark, as she has scored at least 21 points in her last 45 games, stretching back to last season. However, it is possible to do enough to defeat Iowa.

“(Clark) is an exceptional player,” stated CU head coach JR Payne. “She’s the leading scorer in the history of our game for a reason. There’s nothing that anyone could do or say to take that away. We do feel like in the Pac-12 Conference we’re very fortunate that we’ve played against a lot of really good teams – collectively great teams, individually great talent, whether that’s in the post or on the perimeter.

“We mentioned this before the (Kansas State game last Sunday), we felt very prepared to play K-State because we are built for it. We have seen great players and great teams all season long. And it kind of feels the same going against Iowa. We’ve played against great teams, we’ve played against great players. The game plan might look different but we do feel prepared for sure.

Maybe West Virginia provided the Buffs with a plan. The Mountaineers gave Iowa a tough time in Monday’s second round, ultimately losing 64-54. The game was tied late before Iowa gained an advantage at the free throw line.

“I definitely watched that game and saw how (West Virginia) frustrated them on defense,” stated CU’s Frida Formann. “I think we’re a really good defensive team. And we’re not the same as West Virginia, but I think you could see in the K-State game that just our defense can win games. That’s the mentality we’re going in with, and hopefully we’ll be able to control the physical aspect. We don’t want to get in foul trouble, but obviously with a good player like Caitlin Clark you have to be some sort of physical with her, but just trying to be smart about it.”

Iowa's Caitlin Clark (22) is seen during a morning practice session at a college basketball NCAA Tournament in Albany, N.Y. Friday, March 29, 2024. Iowa plays Colorado in a Sweet 16 game on Saturday. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)
A morning practice session photo of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark (22) was taken at a college basketball NCAA Tournament in Albany, N.Y. on Friday, March 29, 2024. Iowa will play against Colorado in a Sweet 16 game on Saturday. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

In the Sweet 16 game against Iowa last year in Seattle, CU lost because three of their starting players — Formann, Jaylyn Sherrod, and Aaronette Vonleh — fouled out when the team was only four points behind with 80 seconds to go.

The way Saturday’s game is refereed and how CU deals with the calls could be very important for CU's chances.

Payne said they need to adapt to the kind of calls being made in the game in the first few minutes and be ready to adjust.

This week, they have been focusing on the basic skills of defense and offense. Payne mentioned that although it's a significant game, the planning and strategy are not much different from other games.

The environment might be different, but the Buffs believe they can handle it. They have faced tough situations before, like when they won against K-State in front of a mostly unsupportive crowd of 10,692 fans.

Payne anticipates a similar crowd to what they experienced in Seattle last year and in many Pac-12 road games. She believes they have enough experience with such environments and are looking forward to it.

Colorado senior Jaylyn Sherrod during a press conference on March 29, 2024, at MVP Arena in Albany, N.Y., before a Sweet 16 matchup with Iowa. (CU Athletics)
Colorado senior Jaylyn Sherrod speaking at a press conference on March 29, 2024, at MVP Arena in Albany, N.Y., before facing Iowa in the Sweet 16.

(5) CU Buffs women’s basketball vs. (1) Iowa Hawkeyes

TIPOFF: Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MT, MVP Arena, Albany, N.Y.

TV/RADIO: ABC/630 AM

RECORDS: Colorado 24-9; Iowa 31-4

COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 8th season (142-102; 243-215 career). Iowa — Lisa Bluder, 24th season (525-253; 882-394 career).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G Frida Formann, 5-11, Sr. (12.5 ppg, 2.1 apg, .446 FG%, .422 3PT%, .913 FT%); C Quay Miller, 6-3, Sr. (9.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, .330 3PT%); G Maddie Nolan, 5-11, Sr. (6.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, .435 3PT%); G Jaylyn Sherrod, 5-7, Sr. (12.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.9 apg, 2.2 spg, .445 FG%); C Aaronette Vonleh, 6-3, Jr. (14.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, .546 FG%); G Kindyll Wetta, 5-9, Jr. (5.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.7 spg, .490 FG%). Iowa — G Sydney Affolter, 5-11, Jr. (7.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, .546 FG%, .392 3PT%, .846 FT%); G Caitlin Clark, 6-0, Sr. (31.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 8.8 apg, 1.8 spg, .456 FG%, .379 3PT%, .862 FT%); G Molly Davis, 5-7, Sr. (6.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, .539 FG%, .407 3PT%, .857 FT%); G Gabbie Marshall, 5-9, Sr. (5.9 ppg, .348 3PT%); G Kate Martin, 6-0, Sr. (12.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.5 apg, .516 FG%, .380 3PT%, .857 FT%); F Hannah Stuelke, 6-2, So. (14.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, .635 FG%).

NOTES: The winner will play Monday in the Elite Eight at MVP Arena against the winner of Saturday’s game between LSU and UCLA. … CU is in the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row and for the eighth time in program history. The Buffs are 3-4 in Sweet 16 games, last winning in 2002. … This is Iowa’s 10th all-time appearance in the Sweet 16. They beat CU in this round last year and went to the national title game. The Hawkeyes are 5-4 in Sweet 16 games. … CU is 3-4 all-time against Iowa. … CU closed the season at No. 17 in the Associated Press rankings, while Iowa was at No. 2. … Iowa leads the country in scoring (92.0 points per game), assists (21.4 per game) and made 3-pointers (11.1 per game) and ranks third in field goal percentage (49.9). They are also 306th scoring defense (71.2) and 145th in field goal percentage defense (39.7). … The Buffs are 30th in scoring offense (75.4) and 23rd in field goal percentage (46.0). On defense, CU is 162nd in points allowed (63.5 per game) and 188th in field goal percentage allowed (40.5). … Davis, a 27-game starter, is “doubtful” to play vs. CU, Bluder said. Davis injured her knee and the Hawkeyes’ regular season finale.

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