GREELEY — Opportunities to sing the fight song after a win were few and far between for the Colorado women's basketball team last season.

To hear the song after her debut on Friday night put a smile on the face of first-year Buffaloes head coach JR Payne.

The Payne era got off to a successful start with an 83-62 win against Northern Colorado at Bank of Colorado Arena.

"For a group like this, just to feel that and go on the road, get a win and in the locker room everybody is cheering and singing the fight song, all of that feels great and is an important first step for us moving forward," Payne said.

Sophomore point guard Kennedy Leonard scored a career-high 26 points — 22 in the first half — and registered nine assists to lead the way for the Buffs, who stumbled to a 7-23 record last season, prompting CU to make a coaching change.

"It's really encouraging for all of us to see a win," Leonard said. "Last year we came off a lot of losses and I don't remember the last time we won, so I think coming off our first game with a new coach and a new staff, it gives us a new feel. The locker room is happy and excited and during the game, it was the first fun game I've had in a year.

"Getting at least that first one out of the way is a breath of fresh air, that's for sure."


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CU led by as many as 23 points before UNC went on a 17-5 run to get within 10 late in the third quarter. The Buffs found another gear, however, to finish strong and pull away in the fourth quarter.

"I think that was a really big growing point for us," Leonard said of the Buffs answering UNC's run with a run of their own.

Alexis Robinson added 17 points and Haley Smith had 10 points, seven rebounds and four steals. As a team, the Buffs hit 50.8 percent of their shots (32 of 63), out-rebounded the Bears, 45-33, and registered 12 steals.

"I was really happy with our effort," Payne said. "I thought we played really hard. We out-rebounded them, which is so important to us. We got out in transition like we wanted to. I'm really pleased, of course, with the outcome, but really more pleased with the way that we played the game, so I'm happy."

Notable

After missing last season with a torn ACL, redshirt freshman Monica Burich made her CU debut and finished with eight points and seven rebounds in just 15 minutes. ... Sophomore transfer Ariana Freeman and true freshmen Quinessa Caylao-Do and Eleanor Jones also made their CU debuts. ... Leonard (35.9 percent) and Robinson (31.0 percent) both struggled with their shots last season, but against the Bears, Leonard went 10-for-18 (55.6 percent) and Robinson went 7-for-13 (53.8 percent). ... The Buffs will play their home opener on Sunday against Air Force at 2 p.m. at Coors Events Center. ... CU snapped a 14-game road losing streak that dated back to the to the 2014-15 season.

COLORADO 83, NORTHERN COLORADO 62

Colorado (1-0)

Smith 4-7 2-4 10, Correal 2-3 0-0 4, Ellis 1-2 3-5 5, Robinson 7-13 0-1 17, Leonard 10-18 2-2 26, Caylao-Do 0-1 0-0 0, Watts 1-1 1-1 3, Jones 1-1 0-0 2, Freeman 2-8 2-3 6, Thomas 1-2 0-0 2, Burich 3-7 0-0 8, Beard-Fails 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-63 10-16 83..

Northern Colorado (0-1)

C. Smith 2-6 2-2 6, Williams 3-4 0-0 9, Leger-Walker 5-21 0-2 11, Scott 1-6 2-2 4, S. Smith 4-10 2-2 13, Kramer 1-2 0-0 2, Karako 1-2 0-2 3, Longwell 3-5 0-0 8, Kain 0-0 0-0 0, Noble 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 23-60 6-10 62..

Score by quarters:

Colorado (1-0) 30 19 13 21 — 83 Northern Colorado (0-1) 14 14 22 12 — 62

3-point field goals — CU 9-22 (Leonard 4-8, Robinson 3-8, Burich 2-4, Smith 0-1, Freeman 0-1), UNC 10-25 (S. Smith 3-7, Williams 3-4, Longwell 2-3, Leger-Walker 1-6, Karako 1-1, Scott 0-3, Kramer 0-1). Rebounds — CU 45 (Correal 8), UNC 33 (C. Smith 6). Assists — CU 14 (Leonard 9), UNC 13 (Leger-Walker 5). Steals — CU 12 (Smith 4), UNC 4 (Leger-Walker 2). Total fouls — CU 13, UNC 16. Fouled out — None. A — 1,071