Colorado women’s basketball coach JR Payne has always taken pride in having her team prepared for each game.
Payne and her staff have worked countless hours on scouting reports and game preparation. Last year, the players added something new to that preparation: 100% confidence.
“Our team fully expected to win every single game that we played,” Payne said Wednesday at CU’s annual basketball media day. “It wasn’t a fluke that we beat Oregon, wasn’t a fluke that we beat Oregon State. It wasn’t a fluke that we swept (UCLA and USC). We believed that we were going to beat those teams and I think last year was the first time I could honestly say that.”
That total belief contributed to CU putting together its best season in nine years. The Buffs went 22-9 and played in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.
As Payne begins her seventh season in Boulder, she sees confidence from last year carrying over in the early stages of preseason practices.
“That’s the biggest blessing because as coaches we know we can beat people,” she said. “You need every single member of your ballclub to know that, not just hope for it. I know that this group going into a game against Stanford, a game against whoever it might be, we know we can beat everybody. We just have to continue to have sort of that chip on our shoulder every day in practice and continue to get better.”
Despite losing several key players, including first-team All-Pac-12 forward Mya Hollingshed, Payne and the Buffs come into this year with the same expectations and confidence they had a year ago.
Last year may have been the first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years – and just the second for CU since 2004 – but it is the expectation for the Buffs.
“We want to be in the NCAA Tournament every single year,” Payne said. “That’s the goal and to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Being there is our expectation, and I don’t mean that in an arrogant way; we just did it for the first time last year – but that’s our expectation. We recruit players that want to compete for championships and are driven to be great, and that that’s where we plan to be.”
Hollingshed, Peanut Tuitele and Sila Finau were three seniors who provided not only a lot of minutes and statistical production during their careers at CU, but also leadership. Filling their shoes won’t be easy, but Payne and the Buffs have high expectations because they are confident they can fill those shoes.
Several key players are back from last year, including post Quay Miller, who was the Pac-12 Sixth Player of the Year, and point guards Jaylyn Sherrod and Kindyll Wetta. Guards Frida Formann, Tameiya Sadler and Tayanna Jones are also back, along with Sophie Gerber, a popular role player.
Post Charlotte Whittaker is healthy again, too. She missed the entire 2021-22 season after undergoing multiple hip surgeries. She’ll compete in the paint with Aaronette Vonleh, a transfer from Arizona who is expected to make a significant impact.
CU also added a talented quartet of true freshmen.
“I think at all positions we have veterans that can impact,” Payne said. “We also have new players that can really challenge those veterans.”
Together, it’s a group that Payne expects to carry the same daily belief that last year’s squad possessed and that will help the Buffs keep pushing after last year’s turnaround.
“As coaches we’re naturally wired to say, ‘What’s next? How can we be better?’” Payne said. “Every day, to be honest, we’re trying to be better than we were the day before. We’re pretty fortunate that we have some players that are also very like-minded in that.
“We were really excited to make the NCAA Tournament last year. We were extremely disappointed to not come out of the first round. I think that’s been also used as motivation, not only for our coaches, but our team.”