Colorado women’s basketball coach JR Payne has always taken pride in preparing her team for every game.
Payne and his team have worked countless hours on scouting reports and game preparation. Last year, the players added something new to this preparation: 100% confidence.
“Our team expected to win every game we played,” Payne said Wednesday at CU’s annual basketball media day. “It wasn’t a fluke that we beat Oregon, it wasn’t a fluke that we beat Oregon State. It wasn’t a fluke that we swept (UCLA and USC) We thought we were going to beat those teams and I think last year was the first time I could honestly say that.
That utter belief helped CU put 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 enters her seventh season at Boulder, she sees the confidence of last year carry over into the early stages of pre-season training.
“It’s the biggest blessing because as coaches we know we can beat people,” she said. “You need everyone in your ball club to know that, not just expect it. I know this group is going into a game against Stanford, a game against whoever it is, we know we can beat anybody. We just have to keep having some sort of chip on our shoulder every day in training and keep improving.
Despite losing several key players, including first-team All-Pac-12 forward Mya Hollingshed, Payne and the Buffs enter this year with the same expectations and confidence as they did 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 that’s the wait for the Buffs.
“We want to be in the NCAA Tournament every 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 say that arrogantly; we did it for the first time last year, but that’s what we expected. We recruit players who want to compete for championships and who are determined to be great, and that’s where we plan to be.
Hollingshed, Peanut Tuitele and Sila Finau were three seniors who not only provided plenty of minutes and statistical output during their CU careers, but also leadership. Filling their shoes won’t be easy, but Payne and the Buffs have high expectations because they’re confident they can fill those shoes.
Several key players are back from last year, including post Quay Miller, who was the sixth Pac-12 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 popular role-playing player Sophie Gerber.
Post Charlotte Whittaker is also in good health. She missed the entire 2021-22 season after undergoing multiple hip surgeries. She will 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 real freshmen.
“I think in all positions we have veterans who can make an impact,” Payne said. “We also have new players who can really challenge these veterans.”
Together, it’s a group that Payne expects to carry the same daily conviction that last year’s team possessed and that will help the Buffs continue to push after last year’s turnaround.
“As coaches, we’re naturally wired to say, ‘What’s next? How can we be better? “Said Payne. “Every day, to be honest, we try to be better than we were the day before. We’re pretty lucky to have like-minded players as well.
“We were really excited to do the NCAA tournament last year. We were extremely disappointed not to make it out of the first round. I think that was also used as motivation, not just for our coaches, but for our team.