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Despite postseason cancellation, JR Payne pleased with CU Buffs’ progress

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Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Jaylyn Sherrod, left, was a key player in Colorado’s successful campaign, one that arguably would have seen them in the WNIT had it not been cancelled.

Colorado women’s basketball coach JR Payne didn’t need to break the news to her team that the season was suddenly over.

“They pretty much knew what was happening once the NCAA Tournament got cancelled,” Payne said.

Worldwide concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus have led to the cancellation of almost all major professional and college sports for the foreseeable future. While the Buffaloes (16-14, 5-13 Pac-12) weren’t going to play in the NCAA Tournament, they had put themselves in position for the Women’s NIT, which would have been the program’s first postseason appearance in three years.

The WNIT bracket would have been revealed Monday and it almost surely would have included the Buffs.

While CU’s return to the postseason has been put on hold for at least another year, Payne’s message to her team was to be proud of what they accomplished.

“The NIT couldn’t tell us 100 percent you’re in, but we got about as strong a confirmation as they’re allowed to give,” Payne said. “I met with the team and just talked to them that we had really earned postseason play and that I was really proud of them for our season. Being as young as we were to just have the one senior, I was proud of everything we accomplished throughout the season. I wanted them to know that we would have been playing in the postseason and that they had earned that.”

Despite a young roster, CU posted its first winning season since 2016-17 and its winning percentage of .533 was the program’s best since 2013-14.

Although the Buffs had their weaknesses – particularly with shooting – they took a major step forward in competing with the elite teams in the Pac-12. They snapped a 32-game losing streak to ranked opponents with a victory against Arizona, which finished the season at No. 13. They also took No. 7 Stanford (twice), No. 10 UCLA and No. 25 Arizona State to the wire before losing.

“Our conference record wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be,” Payne said. “However, the way that we competed with Stanford and those teams, we were more competitive than we’ve ever been, just sort of top to bottom. The wins-losses doesn’t necessarily show that we were significantly better than we’ve been in the past four years, but I definitely believe that to be true.”

The Buffs will lose senior Quinessa Caylao-Do to graduation, but are slated to return everybody else, including freshman point guard Jaylyn Sherrod, who had a stellar first season.

With so many returners, Payne views CU’s close calls against good teams as something to build on going into next year.

“I think our team knew we could be competitive with anyone,” she said. “Knowing is half the battle and obviously we’ll get better over the summer and come back a team that knows we can compete with those guys.”

For the time being, however, Payne and the Buffs have more immediate concerns with the health and well-being of their family and loved ones. In particular, the Buffs have three players from overseas – Emma Clarke (Australia), Zuzanna Kulinska (Poland) and Charlotte Whittaker (New Zealand) – whose ability to get home, or return to CU later, could be impacted by travel restrictions.

“It’s all fluctuating,” Payne said. “Every day is different. It’s hard because they want to go home, but they don’t want to miss spring training.”

For those players who don’t go home, Payne said the capability is there to take care of them in Boulder, but she added, “I think people need and want to be with their families.”