It’s the start of a new era for the University of Colorado women’s basketball team. After a six-year stint, head coach Linda Lappe stepped down after a disappointing season in 2015. JR Payne, who has a track record of turning programs around, was named the new head coach in March.
Payne has two coaching jobs to her name, and has a combined 101-113 record. That isn’t eye-popping, but last season Payne led the Santa Clara Broncos to a 23-9 record. The last season of her previous job saw her team go 23-10.
A turnaround is exactly what the Buffs need at the moment. The biggest improvement needed is how the Buffaloes play away from Boulder. Colorado was abysmal on the road last year; they failed to win a contest away from Coors Events Center all season. Colorado went 2-16 in the Pac-12 as well.
The team went 7-23 last season overall. There were times when it seemed that whatever the team tried to do on the court, it just didn’t pan out. Offensively, the Buffs couldn’t get anything going on most nights. This pattern was highlighted by the game at California, where the Buffaloes didn’t score a single point for almost 19 minutes.
Other team more-or-less outmatched Colorado across the board. The Buffs scored less points per game and shot worse from the field than its whole opposition last year. The Buffs also had less chances from the free-throw line, snagged less rebounds and had less assists than opposing teams. A full printed list of areas in which the 2015-16 Buffaloes were outmatched would take half the trees in the Amazon rain forest to make.
Jamee Swan, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season, has graduated. The offense’s spirit often ran through her. When she checked out of the game, the offense often checked out with her.
Finding a new offensive identity is going to be crucial in Payne’s first season. She does have an interesting roster to experiment with — the sophomore trio of Kennedy Leonard, Alexis Robinson and Makenzie Ellis will all return this year.
Three new freshmen also join the team in the form of Quinessa Caylao-Do, Eleanor Jones and Monica Burich. It’s too early to tell the impact that the freshmen will have, but teaching them the foundations that Payne has used to help her programs grow will be vital to future success.
But for current success, the return of seniors Haley Smith, Lauren Huggins, Bri Watts and Zoe Beard-Fails allows the new coach to use valuable experience on the court immediately. While Leonard, Robinson and Ellis hold the firmest grasp on minutes, the seniors will also account for good quality to complement the young starters.
Juniors Brecca Thomas and Zoe Correal also give the bench unit a nice pair of players to add into the mix. The freshmen, then, can be brought along slowly to learn and not be burdened with a heavy workload early into their careers.
This, however, poses problems for the upcoming year. The Pac-12 was a dominating conference last season. Colorado has retained much of the roster that went 7-23 last season. Expecting a large improvement is likely unrealistic.
The improvement that the sophomores make in their second year will likely be the most obvious upgrade the team can make. If Payne can use the roster to its strengths, this year will also be important.
Payne will have to learn about the players quickly in order to do this. In addition, the players will have to learn about Payne’s style as well. The entire year is going to be a learning experience. Looking in from the outside, wins could be few and far between this year, just like they were last year. Colorado might have to settle for a rebuilding year.
Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Jake Mauff at firstname.lastname@example.org.