The history of CU Buffs basketball is far from illustrious, outside of the Ceal Barry era. Over the course of Barry’s 23-year tenure, Colorado reached the Sweet 16 six times, including a five-year stretch that saw them advance that far four times, including three consecutive appearances.

Yet, in the 123 other seasons of organized Buffalo basketball, including both men and women, CU failed to reach the Sweet 16 even once — until now, thanks to JR Payne.

Payne took over a 7-23 club that went 2-16 in conference play. They were 17-55 through Payne’s first four seasons, before they finally turned the corner, and now, they’ve reached heights that once seemed unthinkable without Barry.

Not only that, but this represented arguably the toughest path the Colorado Buffaloes have had to the Sweet 16, as it was the first time they ever had to go on the road to do it. They had hosted their regional matchups in their other trips.

So how did the CU Buffs get here? Their stars aligned.

Jaylyn Sherrod, Aaronette Vonleh, and Quay Miller all combined to produce stellar performances in the biggest game of the season, and led the Buffaloes to victory.

Early in the game, Vonleh and Miller fueled a 15-2 opening run for CU that proved to be their best basketball of the regulation period by a country mile. The size of the two Colorado bigs was too much for Duke’s all-guard lineup to manage for the first few minutes, and Vonleh and Miller scored at will as a result.

Meanwhile, on the other end, the Blue Devils were forced to settle for several bad looks as they couldn’t figure out how to penetrate the CU paint with both Miller and Vonleh looming.

With just under five minutes to go in the first quarter, Duke would intercept a Colorado pass and take it the other way for an easy bucket, stirring both their offense and defense awake, but the Buffs had already delivered a crushing blow to the Devils.

It would take DU more than 20 minutes of game time to dig out of the hole CU needed just five minutes of game time to construct, but this portion of the game wasn’t enjoyable for the Boulder faithful.

As the Buffaloes’ lead slowly shrunk, and the Blue Devils crept closer and closer, it felt like Colorado was one of Michael Myers’ victims that had just tripped over something inexplicable, and now, all they could do is sit back and wait for their fate to consume them.

When Duke took the lead late in the third quarter, with a 7-0 run, and entered the contest’s final frame up 43-39, it felt like that might’ve been it for Colorado’s 2022-2023 season. All of the game’s momentum seemed to belong to the Durham squad, and Boulder had no answers. But then, the CU Buffs bounced right back up off the mat.

They opened the fourth with a 7-0 run of their own, and went right back up by six, as the game entered the final four minutes of regulation.

Though the Blue Devils were quick to stifle that hope with yet another 7-0 run and secured a four-point lead with less than two minutes to go, but then it became Jaylyn Sherrod’s moment in the spotlight.

Sherrod dove into the paint and leveraged her body to create an open look, bringing the Buffaloes within two points. Duke would miss a long jumper, and Sherrod was right back at their necks, sinking another basket in the paint, and knotting the game up at 50 with 34 seconds to go.

Duke missed a wide-open three, and nearly got the offensive board, but Colorado tied them up, and got the possession arrow with 0.2 seconds left, effectively sending the game to overtime.

For 40 minutes, the Blue Devils and Buffaloes combined to create a basketball game that will go down as a classic for both programs, and it seemed we were going to get an overtime ending fitting for such a duel, but JR Payne’s squad refused that option.

Instead, they took the game’s transition into overtime as the signal to stop playing with their food, and take care of business. In overtime, the Blue Devils didn’t convert a single field goal attempt into points, scoring just three free throws, two of which came in the game’s final minute, with Duke already down six.

The CU Buffs dominated the final period by a score of 11-3 and punched their ticket to Seattle, where a matchup with the Iowa Hawkeyes and phenom Caitlin Clark awaits.

No matter what happens on Friday though, the 2022-2023 women’s basketball team for the Colorado Buffaloes will forever be enshrined on a banner in the CU Events Center for reaching the Sweet 16. That accomplishment serves as a fitting end to the career of Jaylyn Sherrod, whose only Power-5 offer came from the Buffaloes, and who ultimately guided them to the promised land as their MVP four years later.