With high expectations, CU Buffs women’s basketball opens practice

Payne’s squad coming off best season in Pac-12 since 2012-13

BOULDER, CO - SEPTEMBER 30: The University of Colorado Boulder women's basketball team huddles up before a team practice on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER, CO – SEPTEMBER 30: The University of Colorado Boulder women’s basketball team huddles up before a team practice on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

While breaking in new shoes and gear – and no longer worrying about the daily grind of COVID-19 testing – the Colorado women’s basketball brought some energy to the court on Thursday for the first official practice of the season.

BOULDER, CO – SEPTEMBER 30: University of Colorado Boulder senior forward Peanut Tuitele (33) passes during practice on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

“With it being a little bit normal from last year, a lot of us are super excited,” said senior forward Peanut Tuitele, moments after a pre-practice celebration in the locker room. “You can tell from the energy in the locker room. We’re just smiling. It’s a fresh start for us but we’re gonna carry on the momentum from last year to this year and that’s very exciting for us.”

The Buffs (12-11, 8-8 Pac-12 last year) will have an exhibition against Colorado School of Mines at CU Events Center on Nov. 1 and then officially open the season on Nov. 10 at Oklahoma State.

Head coach JR Payne said everyone on the team has had the COVID-19 vaccination, which means they don’t have to worry about daily testing or wearing masks. Instead, they can focus almost solely on basketball and academics.

“We definitely are ready for a ‘normal’ season,” she said.

They’re also ready for a season that will bring higher than usual expectations. Last year was CU’s best season in the Pac-12 since 2012-13. The top seven players, in terms of minutes per game, are back and the Buffs have a talented group of newcomers, led by transfers Quay Miller and Tameiya Sadler, who played significant roles for the Washington team that knocked CU out of the Pac-12 Tournament in March.

“I think if we can begin to excel and crush and grow every single day then we’ll be prepared for anyone on our schedule,” Payne said. “If we can’t get to a place where we are maximizing our potential every single day then no, we won’t be prepared, but that’s my job. … Every roster in America has potential right now but the teams that are able to maximize their potential are the teams that will be successful.”

BOULDER, CO – SEPTEMBER 30: University of Colorado Boulder women’s basketball head coach JR Payne goes over a play with the team during a practice on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

While the Buffs, who finished sixth in the Pac-12 last year, are likely to have higher outside expectations, there’s plenty of work to be done. Payne expects more efficiency at practice with a veteran group, but didn’t hesitate when asked about the primary focus at this time.

“Discipline, discipline, discipline,” she said. “We need to be able to execute details in all areas. How do we communicate? How do we finish plays? How do we get on and off the floor? How do we come prepared mentally to practice? The details of everything that we’re doing are far more important than how many 3s we can make today? Or how do we execute offensively? But can we grow in our ability to really, really do our job and things like that?”

Thursday’s practice was a good one, Payne said, and Tuitele believes the Buffs are motivated. She added that senior Mya Hollingshed gave the team a jolt of energy this summer when she announced her return for this year, taking advantage of the NCAA granting all players an extra year of eligibility.

“For her to believe in the culture and the system that we have now to come back and to help us means a lot and I’m just super excited because we are capable of being one of the top competitors in Pac-12,” Tuitele said. “I can truly say that now.”

Only time will tell if the Buffs will prove they are one of the better teams in the conference, but there’s no question the energy and enthusiasm showed up on Day 1.

“I genuinely love this group,” Payne said. “We have great people on our team. We have great teammates; we have some leadership; we have some talent; we have some veterans. We have a little bit of everything you want in a basketball team.

“Now, it’s our job to make sure that we maximize our abilities and potential in the locker room, in the classroom, on the court, in every area that we’re trying to get better.”

Notes

In addition to Miller and Sadler, true freshmen Kennedy Taylor and Kindyll Wetta made their official practice debuts with the Buffs on Thursday. … Redshirt sophomore center Maura Singer, who has not played a game since her junior year at Columbine High School (the 2017-18 season) because of knee injuries, is practicing and “doing great,” Payne said, but the Buffs are limiting her reps. … Senior guard Aubrey Knight is currently sidelined with a sore shoulder. … Junior forward Charlotte Whittaker is in recovery from hip surgery that will sideline her for the season. Payne said recovery is going well and Whittaker is eyeing a return to the court for the 2022-23 season.