CU Buffs women’s basketball ready for fresh start

Buffaloes tip-off new season Sunday at CU Events Center

Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer
Colorado head coach JR Payne is heading into her fourth season in Boulder.

The offseason in college basketball can often feel long, especially after a less than stellar campaign.

The Colorado women’s basketball team didn’t use much time dwelling on a 12-18 finish to the 2018-19 season, however.

Instead, the Buffaloes have spent the past eight months looking to the future, which has now arrived. The Buffs host New Jersey Institute on Sunday at noon at CU Events Center in the season opener.

“We are very excited,” head coach JR Payne said. “From the time season ends in March to the time it begins Sunday, these guys have just worked so unbelievably hard  on the court, in the classroom. They’ve worked really hard on their relationships with each other, and just building chemistry that we know is going to be invaluable throughout the season. So we’re thrilled. We can’t wait to play Sunday.”

CU is aiming to get back on the winning track after back-to-back losing seasons. Payne is entering her fourth season with the program, but the first without anybody on the roster that played for previous coach Linda Lappe.

Senior guard Quinessa Caylao-Do was recruited by Lappe, but has only played for Payne. The rest of the roster was signed by Payne, and nine of the 13 have been on campus for less than 18 months. The roster includes five freshmen.

Growing pains are to be expected, but Payne was encouraged by the progress made during preseason practices.

“I feel like with such a young group, we’ve spent a lot of time going slowly,” she said. “Initially, things were moving slowly but with purpose and understanding that we want to be really good at a few things and in time, we’ll be able to fill our tool chest with lots of different things. But I think we’ve done a really good job as a group of building our strengths and where we are.”

Several of the young Buffs, especially freshman point guard Jaylyn Sherrod, looked good in a 92-45 win over Regis in an exhibition on Monday, but there’s only so much to read into that type of game.

“The exhibition game is really fun, because we get to put on a uniform and play in front of people,” Payne said. “But the truth is, we’ve been scrimmaging a lot with ourselves and with the (practice) guys, so there wasn’t anything really new or different that we saw in the exhibition game. It’s just more about getting out the first game jitters and things like that. I know our freshmen were nervous with that sort of being their first game.”

Going into the year, Payne and her staff have an idea of what roles each player will fill. Those roles might evolve as the Buffs go through their 12-game non-conference schedule, but the expectation for each player will remain the same.

“We tell everyone just to be an all-star in your role and if you can do that, and I can do that and she can do that, then we have a really good basketball team,” Payne said.

2019-20 CU women’s basketball

Head coach: JR Payne, 4th season (44-50; 145-163 career)

2018-19 record: 12-18, 2-16 Pac-12

Returning starters (3): G Quinessa Caylao-Do, 5-foot-8, Sr. (11.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.7 apg); G/F Mya Hollingshed, 6-4, Jr. (10.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg); F Peanut Tuitele, 6-1, So. (7.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg)

Other returners (5): G Emma Clarke, 6-1, So. (4.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg); G Sila Finau, 5-10, So. (3.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg); F Annika Jank, 6-3, Jr. (6.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg); G Aubrey Knight, 6-1, R-So. (4.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg in 3 games); C Kai Volcy, 6-4, So. (0.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg).

Newcomers (5): G Zuzanna Kulinska, 5-11, Fr.; G Jaylyn Sherrod, 5-7, Fr.; C Maura Singer, 6-4, Fr.; G/F Raanee Smith, 6-2, Fr.; F Charlotte Whittaker, 6-4, R-Fr.

Players lost (4): G Kennedy Leonard (graduated; 12.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg; 6.8 apg); G Alexis Robinson (graduated; 12.2 ppg; 2.4 rpg; 1.6 apg); G Peyton Carter (transferred to Elon; 0.9 ppg, 0.6 rpg); G Mathilde Diop (transferred; 0.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg).

Notable: Leonard was the program’s all-time leader in assists and led the team in scoring three times during her career. … Last season, Caylao-Do had career-best shooting percentages for overall (38.8), 3-pointers (37.3) and free throws (60.0). … Jank has 38 career starts, including nine last year. … Singer is recovering an injury and will not play this year.