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Colorado's Quay Miller, left, uses her strength to get away from Western Michigan's Abby Voss and Lauren Ross on Nov. 30. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Colorado’s Quay Miller, left, uses her strength to get away from Western Michigan’s Abby Voss and Lauren Ross on Nov. 30. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Only time will tell if a Thanksgiving trip to Knoxville, Tenn., will be the spark to turn the whole season around for the Colorado women’s basketball team.

That trip has been a pivotal moment for the Buffaloes for now, however.

In three games since a 69-51 loss to then-No. 23 Tennessee, the Buffs (7-2) haven’t played the same level of competition, but they also been much better as a unit as they go into Wednesday’s home matchup with Southern Utah (3-5) at the CU Events Center.

“I do feel like we’re definitely playing our best basketball right now and hopefully we’ll continue to keep growing and getting better,” said CU head coach JR Payne, whose team is 3-0 since leaving Knoxville. “I feel like we’re playing on the same page. Leading up to that (Tennessee) game, I didn’t think we had been playing very well.”

The loss to Tennessee wrapped up a three-game stretch in which CU went 1-2 and really didn’t play well in the one win, against Air Force.

Since then, the Buffs have been dominant, outscoring Chicago State, Western Michigan and Boise State by a combined 229-117.

“I think we’re defending better than we have all year,” Payne said. “We’ve had possessions and quarters and been able to string things together, string possessions together, where we’re feeling really, really confident defensively.”

The best part is that in watching the film, Payne said the Buffs can be even better, as they haven’t always been sharp defensively.

“But we’re playing really hard,” Payne said. “And our new players are really sort of starting to understand the tenacity and tempo with which we want to play defensively. I would say right now, that’s where we feel we’re at our best.”

CU has continued to develop its leadership but around the time the Buffs were leaving Knoxville and heading to Chicago, Payne met individually with three of the leaders – Quay Miller, Jaylyn Sherrod and Kindyll Wetta.

“I talked to those three about the importance of giving more leadership in the realm of accountability (to the team standard),” Payne said. “We had allowed some slippage in that area.

“We kind of had hit a crossroads where we’re like, ‘OK, it’s been enough of that. We need to start tightening things up.’ I think all three of those guys in the last 10 days have really taken that to heart and really are trying to be intentional about that. We’re a better team for it.”

Payne hopes the Buffs can continue that against Southern Utah, as this is the last tuneup before the Pac-12 opener on Dec. 14 at Utah.

“Utah is the No. 1 offensive team in the country right now, averaging almost 100 points a game, No. 1 field goal percentage, tons of 3s, very well-rounded,” Payne said. “We need to be at our best to go on the road in the middle of finals week to play Utah. Playing well against Southern Utah (on Wednesday) night is an important step in that process of feeling good and feeling ready to start Pac-12 play.”

CU Buffs women’s basketball vs. Southern Utah Thunderbirds

TIPOFF: Wednesday, 6 p.m., at CU Events Center

TV/RADIO: TV — None. Online – CUBuffs.com life stream. Radio — KHOW 630 AM

RECORDS: Colorado 7-2; Southern Utah 3-5.

COACHES: Colorado — JR Payne, 7th season (101-87; 202-199 career); Southern Utah – Tracy Sanders, 5th season (58-62).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G Frida Formann, 5-11, Jr. (10.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.1 spg); G Tayanna Jones, 6-1, Sr. (8.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.1 apg); C Quay Miller, 6-3, Sr. (15.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 2.0 spg); G Jaylyn Sherrod, 5-7, Sr. (10.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 5.1 apg, 2.4 spg); C Aaronette Vonleh, 6-3, So. (9.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Kindyll Wetta, 5-9, So. (5.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.9 spg). Southern Utah — G Daylani Ballena, 5-8, Jr. (11.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 5.0 apg); G Cherita Daugherty, 5-10, Sr. (13.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.4 apg); C Megan Jensen, 6-3, Sr. (9.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg); G Samantha Johnston, 6-0, Jr. (8.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.5 apg); C Lizzy Williamson, 6-5, Jr. (13.8 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 1.4 apg).

NOTES: CU returns home after a 71-48 win at Boise State on Sunday. … The Buffs have won 29 consecutive non-conference home games, dating back to an 81-75 loss to Dartmouth on Dec. 11, 2017. … Under Payne, the Buffs are 42-2 in non-conference home games. … The Buffs have held each of their last three opponents to below 35% shooting and those teams were a combined 13-of-69 (18.8%) from 3-point range. … Payne’s first head coaching job came at Southern Utah, as she coached there for five seasons, from 2009-14, going 67-86. … Payne and Sanders were teammates at Saint Mary’s (Calif.) College in the late 1990s. … CU is 5-0 all-time against Southern Utah, including an 81-47 win last season. … Last year, SUU had one of its best seasons since jumping to Division I, going 18-12 (14-6 Big Sky). The 14 conference wins were the second most in program history, as Payne’s last SUU team went 15-5, in 2013-14. … Southern Utah is 0-4 on the road this season; the Thunderbirds lost at Northern Arizona, 76-65, on Saturday, in their last game. … The Thunderbirds average 47.8 rebounds per game, an average of 10 more than their opponents.