Freshman guard Emma Clarke brings unique experience to the court

Colorado Buffaloes women’s basketball freshman guard Emma Clarke grew up in Perth, the capital of Western Australia, and home to more than 1.9 million people. Now thousands of miles and a 24-hour flight away from home, she stars at guard for the Buffaloes in the decidedly smaller hamlet of Boulder, Colorado.

Before arriving at CU, Clarke played basketball for the Perry Lakes Hawks, a team based in Perth. In 2017, she graduated from Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence at the Australian institute of Sport in Canberra, Australia. While it’s clear Clarke has a knack for the game of basketball, the game she knows so well has taken some adjusting here in the States.

“It’s a lot faster paced here than we are at home,” said Clarke. “It’s a different adjustment, some of the rules are different, plays are different. We focus on the opponent more than we do ourselves.”

Now, with the regular season coming to a close following the Buffs’ matchup with the Bruins on Sunday, the focus shifts to next season. Clarke, however, took some time to look back on her freshman year with CU, exchanging stories about her favorite moments of the season.

“I would say [my favorite moment was] probably when we beat USC because we hadn’t won a Pac-12 game [yet] and we were still so excited for the game,” Clarke said. “When the buzzer sounded at the end, we were all so happy and jumping around and we got to sing our fight song again, so that was probably the best moment this year.”

Prior to Colorado’s season opener, Clarke got the chance to travel to Bangalore, India to represent Team Australia in the U18 FIBA Women’s Asian Championships. Clarke was one of only three Division I players representing Team Australia in the tournament.

“It was really different,” she said of the experience. “It was really good to play against the other teams like Japan and China. They’re really fast and small. It was a really good experience to see the different levels of basketball there are out there.”

Australia played a total of six games in India, finishing with a 4-2 record, good for third place in the tournament. Clarke averaged 6.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists in the five games she appeared in.

Her first experience playing international basketball came last season at the U17 FIBA Oceania Championships. She led Australia to a gold medal, averaging 18 points, seven rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. Clarke was named to the All-Star 5 at the tournament.

For Clarke, the international competition helped her grow as a player and become more independent.

“[I’ve been] looking after myself, I would say; taping my own ankles, doing my own treatment and recovery,” Clarke added. “Looking out for myself without having to lean on lots of people.”

Throughout this season with Colorado, Clarke’s minutes have gradually increased and with that experience came some increased confidence.

“I came in kind of hesitant at the start…My first non-conference game, I was just shooting the ball, kind of scared to put it on the floor and scared to be aggressive,” Clarke said. “As I’ve been through practices and more games and the help of our seniors and the great coaches we have, they’ve definitely instilled confidence in me and made me believe I can do whatever I set my mind to.”

Clarke’s ability to put the ball on the floor was a key factor in her career high 15-point performance against the Washington Huskies on Feb. 24. She finished the game 6-of-11 from the field.

While that was an impressive individual effort from Clarke, as she’s alluded to, she’s learning how basketball is more of a team game. Lucky for her, she’s had two of the better Buffs in the women’s program history on her team all season long, senior guards Kennedy Leonard and Alexis Robinson.

“They’ve had a really big impact,” Clarke said of the two seniors. “They’ve been really good leaders on and off the court, they’ve been encouraging and telling us to get in the gym and the weight room and really getting after us. We just wanted to try and make it the best season for them.”

Clarke observed the two seniors all season long and she’s learned a thing or two from them. Most notably, it was their impressive work ethic that made the biggest impact on the freshman’s habits both on and off the court.

“They’re really hard workers,” she adds. “Kennedy comes in probably every day to get up shots before practice and after; and Lex (Alexis Robinson) is always in the weight room trying to get stronger. Definitely just hard work and how much a team needs everyone to get along with each other.”

Not only have the two seniors helped Clarke individually, she adds that they helped the cohesiveness as a team and brought everyone closer together in the locker room.

“Our chemistry has definitely gotten a lot better since the start of the season,” Clarke said. “The freshman coming in, we didn’t really know many people, but they brought us together. They’ve been great this year for us.”

The two seniors were key in helping Clarke adjust to basketball in the United States in her freshman year with the Buffs. In addition, her international experience helped her adjust to the faster pace of basketball here in the United States. Now, with Leonard and Robinson set to graduate, it’s the soon-to-be sophomore’s hope that she’s learned enough to take the next step with the Buffaloes come next season.

Her freshman season isn’t quite over yet, however. Clarke and the rest of Colorado’s women’s basketball team will head to Las Vegas for the annual Pac-12 tournament. The Buffs will take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in the first round of the tourney on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. MST.

Buffs bit by Huskies on senior day, fall 60-46 to Washington

The Colorado Buffaloes and Washington Huskies faced off on Sunday afternoon at CU Events Center in the Buffs’ home finale. Following a victory over the Washington State Cougars Friday night, Colorado looked to continue their winning ways on Sunday afternoon.

Senior guard Kennedy Leonard played her final game at CU Events Center on Sunday and capped her four-year career at Colorado. On Friday, Leonard scored 12 points and recorded eight assists in the Buffs 72-61 win over the Cougars in her return to the starting lineup.

In addition to Leonard, senior guard Alexis Robinson played her final home game with the Buffaloes on Sunday afternoon. Leonard and Robinson had a combined 2,847 points going into Sunday’s game, and they’re the only active players with 1,000 or more points.

The Washington Huskies hoped to snap a 10-game losing streak dating back to Jan. 11, when they defeated Colorado 68-58 in Seattle. Despite the fact that both teams are near the bottom of the conference, finishing the season on a high note would mean a lot to both squads heading into the Pac-12 tournament.

Colorado snapped a two-game losing streak last time out and looked to give the fans at CU Events Center one last show before heading out on the road for the final two games of the season.

Freshman forward Peanut Tuitele and senior guard Kennedy Leonard opened the scoring for the Buffaloes as they led 5-0 early. Leonard eclipsed 1,600 points for her career with an early three-pointer and layup, moving into eighth place on the program’s all-time scoring list. The Huskies responded though as junior forward Mai-Loni Henson knocked down a three-pointer and led Washington on a 9-0 run.

Tuitele was the beneficiary of slick interior passing and scored her second basket of the game to cut the Washington lead to two. The Huskies responded with an and-one and went the other way and a 7-0 run. Washington then extended their lead to 12 when sophomore guard Missy Peterson splashed a three with just over a minute to go in the first quarter.

The Huskies started hot from the field shooting over 57 percent in the first quarter. A pair of free throws from junior guard Amber Melgoza gave Washington a 21-7 lead as the first quarter concluded. The Huskies closed the quarter on a 12-0 run.

Henson extended the Washington lead to 17 with an and-one layup. Freshman guard Emma Clarke knocked down a three in response for the Buffaloes.

Clarke starred late in the second quarter for the Buffs scoring 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field. Freshman guard Lesila Finau cut the lead to 11 for Colorado with just over two and a half minutes remaining in the second quarter.

Clarke finished with a career-high 15 points and talked about her growing confidence as a player.

“Coming from Australia: foreign country, different teammates, different rules, I came in kind of hesitant at the start,” Clarke said. “My first non-conference game I was just shooting the ball, kind of scared to put it on the floor and scared to be aggressive. As I’ve been through practices and more games and the help of our seniors and the great coaches we have, they’ve definitely instilled confidence in me and made me believe I can do whatever I set my mind to.”

Leonard talked about Clarke’s second-quarter outburst and success shooting the ball.

“Emma is a really good shooter,” Leonard said. “I think the timing of it was the best part about it because we were down by a lot of points. I always tell Emma to shoot it whether people are on her or not. I think that it gave her good confidence.”

The Colorado offense struggled throughout the first two quarters, shooting just 37 percent from the field. The Huskies led 34-24 at the end of the second quarter.

Melgoza extended the Washington lead to 15 with an and-one early in the third quarter. Henson knocked down a three-pointer to open up an 18-point advantage for the Huskies.

A layup and free throw from Leonard cut the Washington lead to 13 with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter. Senior guard Jenna Moser knocked down a three in response for the Huskies.

The Buffs stepped up defensively in the third quarter forcing multiple 24-second shot-clock violations. Sophomore forward Annika Jank cut the Washington lead to nine with a free throw, with just over a minute to play in the third quarter. Junior guard Mathilde Diop went 1-of-2 at the line to cut the lead to eight.

Colorado closed the quarter on an 8-0 run, but the Huskies still led by eight at the end of the third frame. Washington went scoreless over the last five minutes of the quarter.

Offensive rebounds were key in the fourth quarter for the Huskies. UW had multiple opportunities to score despite the fact that they were inefficient from the field. Melgoza extended the Washington lead to 17 with just over five minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

The Buffs 5-0 run was answered by a three-pointer from sophomore forward Khayla Rooks.

Both teams shot a relatively low percentage from the field in game, but late offensive rebounds made a huge difference for the Huskies.

“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well,” Payne said. “We got out-rebounded, didn’t get to the free throw line — things that we typically do pretty well — and things that for us typically lead to success, like out-rebounding our opponent, getting to the free throw line, taking care of the ball. We just weren’t able to do as well as we typically do.”

The Buffs fell short on senior day to the Washington Huskies, 60-46, a tough break for the Buffs’ two graduating members.

“Senior days are tough because there’s so much emotion that goes into the game and the lead up to it and all of that is really difficult,” Payne added. “Even more difficult because we only had one of our two seniors that were able to play today.”

Colorado will travel to Southern California to face the Trojans on Friday. The game tips at 8 p.m. MST.

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