Colorado’s Kindyll Wetta might be the best defender in the Pac-12 Conference.
Her head coach thinks Wetta is even better than that.
“I just want the world to know that Kindyll Wetta is the best defender in America,” JR Payne said after her third-ranked Buffs knocked off No. 6 USC 63-59 on Sunday at the CU Events Center. “She is tough. She is fearless. She has cat-quick hands. She’s disruptive. She can guard without fouling. She’s totally annoying on defense to her opponent.”
Wetta sat next to Payne had a humble response.
“It makes me feel good,” Wetta said of Payne’s comments. “You always want to hear compliments from your head coach, so, thanks coach.”
The praise from Payne came after Wetta drew the assignment of guarding USC star JuJu Watkins. Ranking second in the country in scoring at 26.5 points per game – only Iowa megastar Caitlin Clark scores more – Watkins has already had six 30-point games this season.
The 6-foot-2 guard, who was the No. 1 recruit in the 2023 class, was on her way to another Sunday, going 6-for-10 with 12 points in the first quarter.
From that point on, Watkins was 2-for-12 with eight points, with Wetta as her main defender.
“We already knew that we wanted Kindyll on that matchup for all of the reasons I just described,” Payne said.
Watkins finished with a game-high 20 points, but Wetta made the night difficult for her and that played a significant role in CU’s win. After Watkins fouled out with 5 minutes, 50 seconds left, Wetta created a couple of turnovers, including a steal and assist to Jaylyn Sherrod for an easy layup
“Well, I mean, I just know that that’s my job when I go in the game to create havoc,” Wetta said. “I just tried to do my best at that at all times.”
As for guarding Watkins, Wetta said nothing changed after the first quarter. She just stuck to the plan.
“I don’t think we did anything differently,” she said. “In scout we just talked about she’s a great one-on-one scorer. She’s gonna hit shots, even if you have a great defensive possession and so you just can’t get frustrated. You just got to keep getting in her space and I think that led to the second half.
“I like playing people that are good one-on-one players because as a defensive-minded player, it’s a good challenge for me, too, to see how I can do on them.”
Southern California guard JuJu Watkins, left, looks to move the ball as Colorado forward Quay Miller and guard Kindyll Wetta, right, defend in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Another big crowd
With the Buffs winning, the fans are coming to see the Buffs.
CU had a program-record 11,338 fans for Friday’s game against No. 5 UCLA and had 9,111 for a Jan. 14 game against No. 8 Stanford. On Sunday, attendance dropped a bit to 8,474, but was still a significant upgrade from the past.
Sunday was the 12th-largest home crowd in CU women’s basketball history and the seventh-largest for a regular season game. The past three home games have drawn the three largest crowds in the last 29 years.
“Yeah, it’s been absolutely amazing,” Wetta said. “It’s hard to hear on the floor, which makes it a little bit tougher, but we love it. We love the energy that it brings. And I think it really gets us going on the floor, too. So, keep coming Buff nation.”
Senior Quay Miller added: “They just want to see us win and in return for them coming out that’s what we’re trying to do for them.”
Center Aaronette Vonleh, the Buffs’ leading scorer this year, had a tough first half, with only two points and one rebound. The Buffs often went to backup Charlotte Whittaker to bring some physicality to the paint.
In the second half, however, Vonleh made an impact. She posted six points and five rebounds after intermission, along with a steal.
“I went up to Netty after the game and just said I’m so proud of you for being able to – we always use the term fix it, like something’s wrong, fix it,” Payne said. “For her to be able to have the mindset to stay in the game, to knock down big free throws, to get into a position where Jaylyn found her after not having the best first half, I think that’s incredible. We don’t win that game, probably, if Netty doesn’t do what she did.”
Sherrod topped the 1,300-point mark for her career and moved into 19th place on CU’s career scoring list with 1,302 points. … Miller moved into 19th place in CU history with 597 rebounds. … The Buffs are 9-1 after a loss over the past two seasons.