National

How No. 3 Colorado women's hoops quickly rose to national prominence

No one in college basketball had a better opening week than Colorado.

There’s no blueprint for a team on the outskirts of national notoriety looking to break into the conversation — or at least, there wasn’t. But the Buffs may have written one.

Step 1: Return all the major pieces from a Sweet 16 run.

Step 2: Start your season with a lopsided win over the country's No. 1 squad and defending national champion.

Step 3: Keep winning.

Not exactly an easy plan to follow, yet Colorado has made it look effortless. The Buffs shocked many a college basketball fan when they defeated then-No. 1 LSU 92-78, skyrocketing them from No. 20 to No. 3 in the AP poll. But how surprising was it, really? The Buffs had all the pieces, and last season they came together, showing flashes throughout the 2022-23 season of what LSU saw on Nov. 6.

This season, that same team is more polished, and more experienced.

Key moments in 2022-23

Colorado’s peers in the Pac-12 surely weren’t surprised by the win over LSU, as the Buffs went 10-5 in conference play with wins over Utah, Arizona, UCLA and Washington State during the regular season. Included in that stretch was a double-overtime loss to No. 3 Stanford where Colorado forced 18 turnovers that turned into 18 points.

The Buffs then made their way to the NCAA tournament earning a No. 6 seed, and topped Middle Tennessee in the opening round. That victory marked the program’s first tournament win since 2003.

Colorado went on to upset No. 3 Duke in overtime, before falling to eventual runner-up Iowa in the Sweet 16. The Hawkeyes won by 10 points, but it was a closer contest than the final score indicated, as Colorado trailed by just four points with 1:31 to play. Still, that tournament run left head coach JR Payne with a lot of positives to build on in the offseason.

Style of play

Colorado is a defense-first team that forced 16.6 turnovers per game last season, while holding opponents to just 59.3 points per contest. That defensive prowess helped create chaos against LSU, and the Buffs forced 19 turnovers and limited the Tigers to just four makes from beyond the arc. Through four games this season, Colorado has won by an average of 24.8 points, largely thanks to the pressure its defense provides and the flow it leads to on offense.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s attack has improved from last season, as the Buffs went from scoring 69.2 points per game to 89.8 points per game. Per HerHoopsStats, Colorado is 13th out of 360 teams in both offensive and defensive rating.

Key personnel

Aaronette Vonleh

After starting her career with Arizona and playing just seven minutes per game in 2021-22, Vonleh transferred to Colorado and immediately found her footing. She averaged 12.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore, and now as a junior, Vonleh is leading the Buffs in scoring. She’s averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and one block per contest. A true center, Vonleh can battle with anyone in the paint. Against LSU, she scored 24 points, and was an efficient 11-of-15 shooting.

Quay Miller

Another transfer who found success with the Buffs, Miller played two seasons with Washington before transferring. The fifth-year senior is a walking mismatch for opponents. At 6-foot-3, she can score and guard in the paint, but Miller is also able to pull defenders outside, where she shoots 37.2% from the 3-point line. She’s averaging two 3-pointers per game, and her versatility opens things up for both Vonleh inside and the Colorado guards attacking the rim.

Frida Formann

Against LSU, Formann was the game’s star, leading Colorado with 27 points, and hitting seven of the team’s 10 3-pointers. That’s not the first time the sharpshooter has stepped up against big competition, either. Formann, who is averaging 15 points for Colorado, kept the Buffs afloat during last season’s Sweet 16 matchup with Iowa, scoring 21 points in the loss.

Jaylyn Sherrod

Colorado’s fifth-year point guard is the heart of the team. She came to Colorado without any other Power 5 scholarship offers, and continues to play with a chip on her shoulder. Sherrod’s intensity and all-out effort ignites the Buffs, and so do her skills as a point guard. Sherrod is averaging 14.8 points, 6.8 assists (the 11th-best mark in the country), 3.5 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game, doing a little bit of everything for her team.

Tameiya Sadler and Kindyll Wetta

Neither guard puts up big numbers scoring-wise, but Sadler (a senior) and Wetta (a sophomore) each contribute in key ways, both as on-ball defenders and in helping Sherrod run the offense. Sadler is averaging 2.8 steals and 2.3 assists per game while Wetta records 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals per contest.

Schedule

By the time March Madness starts, the Buffs will be battle-tested, both in and out of conference. They started the season with No. 1 LSU, and will play No. 10 NC State before heading into a challenging Pac-12 slate that includes five other Top 25 teams.