Not even a month has passed since the start of the 2016-17 season, and the University of Colorado Buffaloes women’s basketball team has won the same amount of games that the squad won in the entirety of the 2015-16 campaign.
The No. 21 Buffaloes beat up on Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday afternoon, defeating the Lady Lions by a score of 112-54. It was the most points scored by a CU women’s basketball team since 1994.
The Buffs’ 7-0 record is no coincidence. Yet the roster is largely intact from last season, minus the loss of Jamee Swan, who led the team with 13.5 points and seven rebounds per game. Clearly, something has changed for the Buffaloes under first-year head coach JR Payne. The team is ranked for the first time in two years.
“Positivity is a huge thing for all of us, and then just fighting for more than just ourselves,” said Kennedy Leonard, sophomore guard. “We’re fighting for each other, fighting for the coaching staff and we’re just fighting for Colorado athletics as a whole.”
Leonard, who averaged 12.1 points per game last year as a freshman, is off to an explosive start this season. She’s averaging 17.9 points so far.
Her fellow sophomores, guards Ariana Freeman and Alexis Robinson, have been key weapons as well.
After averaging 7.6 points per game last year, Robinson is putting up 11.9 per game this season. Freeman, who sat out last season per NCAA regulations following her transfer from Louisville, is giving Colorado an extra edge this year.
“Ariana is very hungry,” Payne said. “She’s an aggressive player … she’s one who loves to get the basket and can finish with strength.”
Her wait to play has clearly been paying off. In Tuesday’s throttling of SE Louisiana, Freeman dropped 19. She put up a career-high 24 points against St. Francis, going 11-of-16 from the floor in the win.
“It took me a long time to not get frustrated and upset having to sit there and watch my team go through such a rough season,” Freeman said. “But I took it as a learning experience … when I get on the court, I’m just trying to make hustle plays and run up and down the floor.”
As a collective unit, the team has made great strides from last season. The Buffaloes are knocking down approximately 46 percent of their shots from the floor, as opposed to the roughly 39 percent they converted last year. So far this season, the team is averaging almost 23 more points per game than a year ago.
“I think we’re feeling really confident,” Payne said. “We’ve been trying to give each player a role on the team and get them to buy in to that role, [roles] which play into their strengths as individuals. People feel good about how they’re playing.”
The Buffs have outscored opponents by an average of 25.3 points per game and are limiting enemy teams to just 19.6 field goals made per contest.
One final boost has been senior guard-forward Haley Smith. She’s been a workhorse for this young Buffaloes team, averaging 27.6 minutes per game and scoring an average of 11.7 points per contest.
“Haley is someone who is above reproach,” Payne said. “She’s our hardest working player, she’s a great student, a great teammate … she’s someone that everyone looks up to and really sets the standard as far as how hard we want to train and the type of teammates we want to be.”
For Payne and her Buffaloes, there is more work to be done, but with a rank preceding their name and a 7-0 start to the season, good things seem to be in store for this Colorado Buffaloes team.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.