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Sila Finau helping CU Buffs make NCAA Tournament push

Senior guard brings energy to court for Buffaloes

University of Colorado Boulder’s Lesila Finau drives past Marquette’s Chloe Marotta during the November 19, 2021 game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
University of Colorado Boulder’s Lesila Finau drives past Marquette’s Chloe Marotta during the November 19, 2021 game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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After the opening tip Sunday against Washington, Colorado’s Sila Finau went for the ball, drew a foul and won possession for the Buffaloes.

Throughout the day, Finau’s aggressive, heads-up play led to several more key moments for the Buffs as they cruised to a much-needed 66-43 victory.

“We’ve asked Sila to bring energy and to be a great defender and to be somebody that impacts the glass and be able to get steals defensively,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “We’ve asked her to be disruptive defensively, and she’s gonna get scoring opportunities from that. I thought her energy was great Sunday.”

Finau’s energy has been important to the Buffs (15-6, 4-6 Pac-12) throughout her career and will continue to be as they head into the final three weeks of the regular season.

Jan. 14, 2022- University of Colorado ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s Lesila Finau gets a shot over Stanford’s Hannah Jump during the Pac-12 game in Boulder on January 14, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

On Friday, the 5-foot-9 senior guard will try to help the Buffs get a road victory against the California Golden Bears (10-6, 1-4).

“I think it’s very important,” Finau said of bringing high energy to the court for the remainder of the season. “I do think I’m a factor. Obviously, there’s 15 other factors on this team, but I am one of them that can help get my team to a win, so it is very important.”

This weekend will take Finau on one last road trip to the place where she grew up.

In 2018, Finau came to CU from Dublin (Calif.) High School, located less than one hour from Cal’s Haas Pavilion and a little more than an hour from Stanford’s Maples Pavilion, where the Buffs will play on Sunday.

The road trips don’t give Finau much time to see her friends and family, but she said, “I’m very excited. There’s not too many times where you do get to go home in the year, so that’s one thing I’m looking forward to, just being able to see everybody and them being able to see me in person.”

A prolific scorer in high school, Finau has had a different basketball journey during her time at CU. In 102 career games — 56 as a starter — she has averaged 3.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists, but has had a greater impact than the stats indicate.

Perhaps more so than others on the roster, Finau has adjusted to a variety of roles during her time with the Buffs. At various times in her career, she’s been a backup point guard, a starting point guard, a backup two-guard or wing and a starting two-guard or wing. Her role has sometimes changed by week or month.

“It is difficult, but I just try to take it day by day, and I look at it as another opportunity, rather than something that hinders what I can do,” said Finau, who has started all 21 games this year. “It’s just an opportunity to do something to build on my game outside of what I normally do.”

Payne said she has put Finau in some challenging situations at times, but added, “She has done everything that we’ve asked her to do. … When you’re on a basketball team, you have to be a great teammate and do what the team needs.

“She’s a great defender, she is someone that knows the scout, she holds her teammates accountable to a high level of play every single day. That’s what upperclassmen should do, and she really does that. She’s been very vocal and leads by example in the weight room. She just is doing what an upperclassman should do to help her team be successful.”

Prior to the Buffs’ win against Washington, they went through a stretch of six losses in seven games. Despite that, they are currently projected as an NCAA Tournament team for the first time since 2013. Finau is aiming to do her part to help the Buffs reach that level of success.

“Since game one, since day one, that’s been the goal: just to get to the tournament,” she said. “I’ve been here four years. Me and Peanut (Tuitele), and Mya (Hollingshed) has been here the whole time we’ve been here. Just us getting that standard, that culture into this program and building from there.”

While Finau has made an impact with the Buffs and she admits that as a Division I athlete “basketball is my life right now,” CU has made a lasting impact on her, as well.

“Ups and downs are a part of it, but overall I’ve had a lot of fun,” she said. “Obviously, having new teammates every year, just getting to meet new people.”

Set to graduate in May with a degree in psychology and a minor in sociology, Finau could return next year because of the NCAA granting all athletes who went through the COVID-19 season of 2020 an extra year. At this point, she’s unsure of what she’ll do next year, but she has enjoyed her time in Boulder.

“It’s been a very eye-opening experience in terms of just many different aspects of what is here,” she said. “I came here for basketball, but there’s just so much other stuff that Colorado has to offer that I did enjoy, but who knows what other things are out there for me? So we’ll see.”

CU Buffs women’s basketball at California Golden Bears

TIPOFF: Friday, 8 p.m., at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif.

BROADCAST: TV – Pac-12 Network. Radio – 630 AM

RECORDS: Colorado 15-6 (4-6 Pac-12); California 10-6 (1-4 Pac-12)

COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 6th season (87-81; 188-914 career). California – Charmin Smith, 3rd season (23-41)

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado – G Sila Finau, 5-9, Sr. (3.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Frida Formann, 5-11, So. (8.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.6 apg); F Mya Hollingshed, 6-3, Sr. (14.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg; 1.2 spg, 1.0 bpg); C Quay Miller, 6-3, Jr. (11.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg); G Jaylyn Sherrod, 5-7, Jr. (7.7 ppg; 2.5 rpg; 3.6 apg, 1.9 spg); F Peanut Tuitele, 6-1, Sr. (6.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg); G Kindyll Wetta, 5-9, Fr. (4.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.1 apg, 2.5 spg). California – G Cailyn Crocker, 5-9, Jr. (8.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.4 spg); G Jayda Curry, 5-6, Fr. (19.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.2 spg); G/F Dalayah Daniels, 6-3, So. (6.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg); G Jazlen Green, 5-11, Jr. (8.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg); F Evelien Lutje Schipholt, 6-2, Jr. (10.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg); G Leilani McIntosh, 5-5, Jr. (6.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 4.2 apg).

NOTES: This is the first game of a four-game road swing for the Buffs, who are 4-3 on the road this season. Cal is 7-2 at home. … CU snapped a two-game skid with a 66-43 win against Washington on Sunday. … Cal leads the all-time series, 12-11 and the series is tied 5-5 in Berkeley. CU has won the last four meetings, sweeping both games with the Bears in 2020 and 2021. … Cal has had six Pac-12 games postponed because of COVID-19, including its scheduled trip to Boulder on Jan. 16. … The Bears snapped a three-game losing streak with a 62-59 win at Southern California on Feb. 4 and then lost at UCLA, 59-54, on Sunday. … Curry, who leads the Pac-12 in scoring, has been the Pac-12 freshman of the week five times. … “Cal’s a very dangerous team because they’re so unbelievably athletic and can cause a lot of disruption with their athleticism,” Payne said. “There’s a lot that they do really well that can be disruptive, and they’re a very dangerous team It’s a very tough matchup for sure. We’re just excited for Cal right now and really trying to prioritize that one game, one set of preparation, one focus mindset. I feel really good about where we are right now.”