The best sports team at the University of Colorado Boulder isn’t Deion Sanders’ football or Tad Boyle’s men’s basketball. Instead, that title likely belongs to the CU women’s basketball squad. Head Coach JR Payne has quietly put together an absolute powerhouse of a program. Last season, the Lady Buffs made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. On Monday night, the women opened their season by knocking off the #1 ranked, reigning champion Louisiana State in a dominant 92-78 win.
Colorado started the season ranked as the 20th-best team in the nation, but they’ll surely skyrocket even higher in the polls after beating the Tigers in such a convincing fashion. Some very notable people have been singing CU’s praises, including former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal and Coach Prime himself.
“[The women] are comin’ and we should play their theme music because they are ballin’!” Sanders said during his media availability on Tuesday.
What Coach Payne has done in Boulder may be the most underrated coaching job in the recent history of the state. After taking over a women’s hoops program in shambles, Payne has rebuilt Colorado into one of the strongest programs in the entire country. In her seven full seasons in Boulder, Payne has led the Buffaloes to a winning record five times. The Buffs have made the NCAA tournament the last two seasons under Payne’s watch, and look to make it three straight appearances on the biggest stage in 2024.
What Payne has done is especially impressive, given the spending discrepancies between the men’s and women’s teams. CU women’s basketball’s total expenses are around $3.4 million per year according to the U.S. Department of Education, which is only around 40% of what their male counterparts spend. Despite that, the coaching staff has made the most of what is available to them to turn the Lady Buffs into one of the best programs in the country.
This team has the legitimate possibility of being the best women’s sports team the state of Colorado has ever seen. Not only do the Buffs have a chance to win the Pac-12 conference, but they have a legitimate shot to win the national title. If the Buffaloes can manage to get further than the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament, they’ll have officially surpassed the 1995 Lady Buffs as the greatest women’s sports team in the history of the state.
“I’m really excited about our team. I think I say this every year, that I love our team, and this year is no different. This is a special group,” Payne said.
Despite their stellar win over LSU and fantastic performance these last two seasons, the Lady Buffs don’t get the attention they should. Guard Jaylyn Sherrod is the heartbeat of the team, as she has proven herself to be one of the best five players in all college women’s hoops. Meanwhile, guard Frida Formann has perhaps the cleanest shot in the entire state, rivaled only by Nuggets superstar Jamal Murray. Payne feels as though her players don’t get the recognition they deserve.
“I don’t think they do. But I also don’t think they mind. They’re just trying to be great,” Payne said. “They’re built that way, that they don’t need to shine. They have earned the shine, and they’re going to continue to. But they don’t necessarily care about that stuff.”
Now that the Buffs have such a big win on the national stage, they’re expected to get some of that well-deserved appreciation. For those who haven’t been following the Lady Buffs, now is the time to hop on the bandwagon. Women’s basketball is the best bang-for-your-buck ticket in all of Boulder, as one general admission ticket costs around $7 and allows you to get up close and personal to the action.
Fans who are interested in showing up to support Colorado Women’s Basketball can do so on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. when the Buffs take on Oklahoma State. The Lady Buffs will play at least 13 more games at the CU Event Center this season.
“It’s going to be a great year for us. We’re ready,” Payne said.