In 2017-18, the Colorado Buffaloes women’s basketball team finished the year with a 15-16 record under head coach JR Payne.
It was a season of growing pains for the Buffaloes. Ultimately, despite good signs of things to come from then-freshmen guards Peyton Carter, Aubrey Knight, Mya Hollingshed plus forward Annika Jank, Colorado was unable to compliment solid years from program centerpieces Kennedy Leonard and Alexis Robinson with a winning record.
But now in mid-November, with the regular season for CU already taking off, players, coaches and admirers of CU’s women’s basketball program alike should have good reason to anticipate a significantly higher level of success in 2018-19.
Last year, many Buffs were thrown into the fire as freshmen. While overall effectiveness varied, the end result that will likely reveal itself in the weeks and months to come is this: Leonard and Robinson will get to work with a group of battle-tested sophomores ready to assume bigger roles on the team. This season, CU returns to the court five of its six leading scorers from last year.
In addition, Colorado’s freshman class should also bolster the Buffs with quality minutes off the bench.
Put simply, in terms of ability and depth of roster, Payne very well could be working with the most collectively capable group of girls in her third year at the helm of CU’s women’s basketball team.
“I feel great about our team for a variety of reasons,” Payne said. “We return a lot of productivity [from last year], we have a lot of last year’s freshman that gained a lot of experience and are now very experienced sophomores [and] overall, the chemistry of this team is vastly different than any team we’ve had at CU so far.”
Colorado has a plethora of underclassmen ready to make a bigger splash this season, giving Leonard and Robinson, the Buffs’ only seniors, increased confidence in the squad.
“This is the best team that I’ve been a part of in my four years — that’s just not necessarily how we play on the court, but [also] how we are off the court and our bond,” Leonard said. “This is the most together I’ve felt with any team I’ve been a part of, as well. It translates on the court.”
Sophomore guard Mya Hollingshed sticks out as a shining star in terms of younger players ready to make increased contributions to the Buffaloes’ cause.
Last year, Hollingshed appeared in 29 games for the Buffs, coming off the bench in all of them. Despite the support role, she lead the team with a 42.7 make rate from three-point range and was second on the team in total field goal percentage (45.5) among players that attempted at least 100 shots.
“We’re going to need more production than we had last year, but although we have a lot of underclassmen, having younger kids that played a lot last year like Mya [Hollingshed] will help us a ton in the long run,” Leonard added.
Hollingshed’s 6.8 points per game average was fifth on the team last season, and she saw the second-most minutes on the court out of the Buffs’ then-freshmen, save for Jank. Regardless, her offseason effort has earned the 6-foot-4 guard/forward from Houston, Texas praise from her peers.
“She’s probably had the biggest jump from last year to this year out of all the underclassmen,” Leonard said. “She wants extra help [and] is always asking questions, which is something that a lot of us didn’t see out of her last year, so to see that this year is exciting. It’s going to be a huge positive for us.”
Although Hollingshed recorded just four points in her first collegiate basketball start versus Northern Colorado last Tuesday, she led CU with two blocks and was second with seven rebounds.
While the scoring wasn’t particularly there for her, Payne retains confidence in Hollingshed’s ability to continue developing as a player.
“The sky’s the limit for her because she’s really expanded her game from a skill standpoint as well as a confidence standpoint to be able to utilize her God-given athleticism to take advantage inside [the paint] as well as on the perimeter,” Payne said.
While Colorado’s underclassmen have been garnering attention, the Buffs’ two juniors, guards Quinessa Caylao-Do and Mathilde Diop, could be the final pieces to the 2018-19 puzzle that rounds out CU’s experience and overall depth of roster.
Caylao-Do recently gave fans many reasons to look forward to her individual campaign this season. In Colorado’s season-opening win over UNC, Leonard stole the show, dropping 30 points and hitting a career-high 15 free throws.
But Caylao-Do had an impressive 29 minutes on the court, contributing 23 points to the Buffs’ cause while shooting 7-of-9 from the floor, including 3-of-4 shots from long range.
“This is definitely the strongest squad I’ve been on,” Robinson said. “We’re just such a close team. Our bond is … unbreakable and with us so together, we can do anything.”
Last year, the Buffs lost four games by a margin of six points or less. However, the level of experience returning this year for Colorado from the newbies to the soon-to-be graduated seniors could be the difference maker in turning close losses to hard-fought wins.
“Our freshman right now are not shy about having an impact — they know that they’ll have an ability to play,” said Payne. “Our returners have done a good job of welcoming them into those roles. Not only do they know that they’re pretty good and can have an impact, but their older teammates have encouraged and welcomed that, which goes to show the type of camaraderie we have on the team right now.”
Up next for the Buffs is a showdown at the CU Events Center this upcoming Wednesday, Nov. 14, with in-state rival, Colorado State. The Buffaloes and Rams tipoff at 7 p.m.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.