The 2022-2023 season has been one for the record books for the Colorado Buffaloes’ women’s basketball team, but unfortunately, their tale has come to an end, with an 87-77 loss at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Had Colorado won, it would have marked just their fourth Elite Eight appearance in program history, and the first without Ceal Barry at the helm.

JR Payne’s squad played their typical brand of aggressive defense, paired with timely offense from a few star contributors, but ultimately, Caitlin Clark’s dynamic presence proved too much for CU to handle.

Early in the game, Clark fueled a 10-1 Iowa run that put the Hawkeyes up 15-5 in the early stages of the contest. She made three of her first five shots, and her unreal passing IQ was on full display.

Fortunately, the Buffaloes’ tandem of Frida Formann and Aaronette Vonleh concocted a retort.

First, Formann missed a quick jumper off an inbounds play, only for Vonleh to secure the rebound, and kick it out to Formann, for a three-point bucket. On the next possession, Vonleh took care of business herself, scoring in the paint, and slicing the Hawkeye lead down to five. Then the next two possessions played out like a loop, with Formann landing a deep triple, and Vonleh getting some points in the paint.

In a matter of 98 seconds, the Colorado Buffaloes had turned a 10-point deficit into a tied basketball game.

The rest of the quarter played out as a back-and-forth heavyweight boxing match between Clark and Formann, resulting in Iowa ending the final frame with a narrow one-point lead, up 23-22.

It was one of just two quarters the Hawkeyes would win, and in both of those quarters that favored Iowa, Clark ate the Colorado Buffaloes alive. In the first quarter, she scored or assisted on 15 of Iowa’s 23 points, though, fortunately for CU, she would quickly cool as the second quarter began.

Plus, Frida Formann was just heating up, and that combo opened the door for Colorado to steal the lead.

She connected on four of her six three-point attempts in the first half, while backup guards Tameiya Sadler and Kindyll Wetta both sent a three-pointer in themselves, to pull the Buffaloes ahead for their largest lead of the game in the second quarter.

Although CU’s five-point lead quickly evaporated, it felt like a sign of things to come, as it felt the Buffs were in the driver’s seat, with Caitlin Clark connecting on one of her last six shots to close the quarter.

It seemed Colorado had figured out a way to contain Clark midway through the first, and as a result, were outscoring the Hawkeyes 35-24 over the final quarter-and-a-half of play, as the Buffs carried a 40-39 lead into the half — thanks to a gorgeous buzzer-beating layup from Sadler.

The good vibes surrounding the Colorado Buffaloes quickly dissipated as the second half got underway though. It instantly became apparent that Clark was, by no means, reined in, as she took over the game and tore CU’s still-pumping heart from their chest.

While the Buffs’ offense hit a cold patch, the Hawkeyes went supernova, thanks to Clark, and opened the half on a 15-2 run, burying CU in a 14-point-deep grave.

After suffering some early foul trouble, Jaylyn Sherrod finally checked back into the game, and provided the spark that helped grind the Iowa run to a halt, but the damage had already been done, and Colorado would be forced to spend the rest of the matchup attempting to erase that margin.

They were unsuccessful.

Although JR Payne got the offense to snap awake in the fourth quarter, Colorado seemingly couldn’t buy a stop against the vaunted Iowa attack, and as a result, struggled to make up any ground.

When Quay Miller finally got going with a three-point shot and some points in the paint, and the Colorado Buffaloes exploded for a quick 10 points, they only narrowed their deficit by six points (from 12 to six), rather than narrowing it by 10, as they did in the first quarter. Plus, those spurts were too few and far between, especially as Iowa seemingly had the ability to score at will.

With CU down six with one minute left to go, after an amazing steal-and-score from Jaylyn Sherrod, JR Payne drew up a three-point play for Quay Miller, but the shot was off, Iowa rebounded, and the Buffaloes were forced to resort to fouls.

Unfortunately for them, Iowa made their free throws and secured an 87-77 victory.

Although this season ends in heartbreak, it should be noted that Colorado fans are only in the position to have their hearts broken because these women so greatly outperformed expectations.

In the preseason, they were picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12. They wound up reaching the Sweet 16 and becoming the only team in the history of the school to reach the Sweet 16 without hosting the first two rounds of the tournament.

They pulled off an epic upset over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium for us to even get here.

No one believed in JR Payne’s squad. Now, after this campaign? How could you not believe in what they’re building?