JR Payne tries to steer Colorado to upset of Caitlin Clark and Iowa

Payne, the former Windsor Dukes high school star, downplayed the showdown with Clark earlier this week: “I think honestly we’re just excited to play one of the best teams in the country.”

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North Vancouver’s JR Payne and her Colorado Buffaloes can steal the show in the NCAA women’s basketball Sweet 16 if they can find a way to beat the Iowa Hawkeyes and the much celebrated Caitlin Clark.

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Payne, 46, is the former Windsor Secondary School hoops standout who’s in her eighth season as head coach at Colorado. The No. 5 seeded Buffaloes (24-9) meet No. 1 Iowa (31-4) Saturday (12:30 p.m.) in Albany, N.Y., with a spot in the Elite Eight of the national tournament on the line, and Iowa looking to extend the collegiate career of Clark, the senior guard who has gotten attention galore since becoming the NCAA’s all-time scoring leader — male or female — earlier this season.

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“I think honestly we’re just excited to play one of the best teams in the country,” Payne said at a media conference earlier this week. “That’s what it comes down to.

“I think a lot of people outside of our locker room will talk about (Clark) and what that will look like and what that would mean. We will not be talking about that. We will talk about coverages, game plan, scheme, discipline, execution. For us, it’s the same whether it’s the first exhibition game of the season or LSU on opening night or Stanford or Iowa in the Sweet 16. The opponent doesn’t play a role in our verbiage and the things we’re focused on.”

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Payne was a first team all-star at the 1995 Double A high school provincial championships after leading Windsor to a spot in the title game, where they fell 67-51 to Duchess Park.

She then played collegiately at Saint Mary’s, and helped her Moraga, Calif., program to its first-ever NCAA national tournament appearance in 1999. She got into coaching after that, starting with assistant coaching stints at Gonzaga, Boise State and Santa Clara, before taking on heading coaching roles with Southern Utah and then back at Santa Clara.

She signed on with Colorado in 2016. This is the Buffaloes’ third straight trip to the national tournament and they made the Sweet 16 last year, where oddly enough they fell to Iowa, dropping an 87-77 decision.

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Colorado went 72-75 in her first five seasons at the helm. They’ve gone 71-27 in the past three years. 

jr payne
Head coach JR Payne of the Colorado Buffaloes talks with an official in the first half against the Kansas State Wildcats during the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at Bramlage Coliseum on March 24, 2024 in Manhattan, Kansas. Photo by Peter Aiken /Getty Images

“People have chosen to come here with their eyes wide open. This is not a place where we have a roster full of McDonald’s All-Americans. We don’t need to play to play pretty, we don’t need to be dainty,” Payne said recently. “On the floor, we’re rough, we’re blue collar, we work hard. It won’t be easy, but you’ll be loved and supported and challenged, and players know that coming here. We’ve created an identity where we do play really hard, we are gritty. Players are in a space where they can be who they want to be in our program. We love who we are and we love the players who are here and it just works for us.”

Payne is married to Toriano Towns, who’s Colorado’s associate head coach alongside her. They have three children. Towns was a football player at Saint Mary’s and according to a Denver Post story they met in a training room at Saint Mary’s, sitting on separate tables and having their ankles taped. 

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reference: theprovince.com

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