Payne's Buffs Ready For Season
BOULDER - After a strong 2020-21 season, the Colorado women's basketball team had a hopeful spirit at CU Winter Sports Media Day on Tuesday.
The Buffaloes finished 12-11 last season with an 8-8 mark in the Pac-12 competition. They ended the year playing well, advancing to the quarterfinals of the WNIT before eventually falling to Ole Miss. With head coach JR Payne having a majority of the players from last season's team returning - while also adding some talented new ones - expectations are high for this team.
"I think when you've established a culture of daily effort and daily excellence, that's where your confidence comes from," Payne said. "It's not from having a superstar back or a bunch of veterans back, it's about what we accomplish every single day. We're still working to establish that. We have a lot of veterans and we have new players that are learning how to train, how to compete, and how to make sure that's a daily habit. We did have some big wins. I expect us to have more big wins this year and I know we're capable of that."
One of those big wins last season was a 77-72 OT upset over the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal - the eventual national champions. Picked to finish seventh in the preseason coaches poll, the Buffs are aware they can compete with anyone in the conference. Colorado will have a tough schedule in Pac-12 play, but they are looking forward to it.
"I think for years now, the Pac-12 has been the number one women's league in the country and this year will be no different. I think we've had five teams in the Sweet-16 in six of the last eight years or something. It's a very good conference top to bottom. I think it's unique when the seventh-place team can be an NCAA tournament team consistently. Everyone is really good. There are years where you're like 'We've got veterans. We feel really good about our team'. Well so does everyone else. Not only that, but they've added three 5-Star All- Americans. It's tough no matter who you play. Where you play. In the Pac-12 it's going to be a tough matchup, but we chose that. Everyone who came to Colorado chose that and wanted to play in the best league in the country and wanted to be challenged day in and day out. We're getting what we asked for."
The leader of the Buffs' veteran core will be 5th year forward Mya Hollingshed. Hollingshed, a 2021 All-Pac-12 selection, averaged 15.4 points, was second in the Pac-12 with 7.8 rebounds per game, and was tied for the best in the Pac-12 with eight double-doubles last season. Hollingshed continuing to grow into a leader will be key for Colorado this year.
"I told Mya that she had a really great year last year and she's having a great year in practice so far this year," said Payne. "We've seen more vocal presence from Mya which we've been asking her to do since maybe her junior year. As a fifth-year senior, and someone that has played all four years and been very impactful - we need her to coach and be helpful to our young players and new players and she's doing a really good job of that. I can always see her talking to someone on the sideline. They're not just shooting the stuff - she's actually coaching them and helping them. They go to her when they have questions - offensively or defensively. That's a huge key for us. She looks great."
Another important thing for the Buffs this year will be depth. Along with Hollingshed, senior Peanut Tuitele and Washington transfer Quay Miller will provide depth in the frontcourt. In the backcourt, junior guard Jaylyn Sherrod will be one of the primary ball handlers, with other players like senior Lesila Finau, sophomore Frida Formann and freshmen Kindyll Wetta and Sophie Gerber having the opportunity to make an impact.
"Yeah, it's a lot of competition," said Payne. "Sila [Lesila Finau] is playing well at the one [PG], she also is playing really well at the two [SG] and she's also playing really well at the three [SF]. We're just trying to figure out who can be versatile, who can play different positions, who's playing well, what are we missing, who can provide what we're missing. The competition is stiff at the 1 but I also expect some of those point guards to move around and play different positions."
The Buffs will be able to show off that depth when they hit the court on Nov. 1 for an exhibition against Colorado School of Mines at 7 p.m. at the CU Events Center. The Buffs' season opener will be on Nov. 10, at Oklahoma State.